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Maximising Shipping Potential with Human Capital Devt

With increasing wealth and opportunities in the nation’s shipping industry, the Nigerian  Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), has evolved strategic measures to  develop both human and infrastructural capacity to position Nigerians for more  participation in the lucrative trade, reports Francis Ugwoke
 
With Nigeria’s oil background, the nation’s shipping industry is no doubt greatly endowed with huge potential. But the sad note is that few Nigerian companies are able to participate in the trade. 
Beyond oil is the population factor that helps to promote other shipping activities, including high volume of dry cargo imports. So far, Nigeria is regarded as the highest in terms of cargo and vessel traffic when the whole of West Africa is put together.
 
It is one record that has endeared the country to many multinational corporations which are investing massively in shipping trade. This is why the blackmail by some international agencies that the country has overtaken Somalia in piracy has failed to hold water. The current scenario is that the big time operators who deploy such facilities as Panama, modern container, tanker, RORO vessels, among others are foreign players who are reaping heavily from Nigeria’s shipping industry. 
 
The situation is even threatening as the multinational agencies are also into competition with local operators in provision of barges, tankers and other shipping facilities needed by oil firms for local operations. This is notwithstanding the cabotage shipping regime that reserves such local shipping services to indigenous firms as a way of encouraging their growth.
 
It is also without regard to the local content law that was introduced to promote participation and growth of indigenous firms. Although, the scenario of so much monopoly of foreign firms in the shipping industry is indeed bitter, the problem is traced to lack of indigenous capacity in fleet expansion and also in human capital.
 
Nigeria has been suffering such capacity since the demise of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL). With all the old ships belonging to NNSL auctioned, and former captains and other crew members gone their different ways, the nation’s shipping industry has been hit in many ways. With few ships, there have been few jobs for masters and other seafarers as well over the years.
 
It is this ugly trend that the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is currently addressing. NIMASA’s statutory responsibility as an apex maritime institution is to promote indigenous shipping development in all areas, including boosting fleet expansion among local operators through the shipping fund and human capital development. 
 
Areas of Intervention
As part of capacity development, NIMASA has been involved in filling the infrastructural gaps in the sector by way of upgrading the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) to train as many seafarers as possible. On the agenda is to upgrade MAN to a degree awarding institution with affiliation to the World Maritime Academy Malmo, Sweden.
 
NIMASA is expected to fund MAN from its earning. In 2008, NIMASA conceived the Nigeria Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP), which is aimed at bridging the gap occasioned by the dearth of seafarers in the country. The agency has called on states to be part of the programme, with 15 showing interest.
 
The idea was to address the challenge posed by the demise of NNSL, which provided opportunities for training and retraining of seafarers. The NSDP programme was designed to train Nigerian youths in some of the best Maritime Training Institutions abroad up to degree level in Marine Engineering, Nautical Sciences and Naval Architecture.
 
Director General of NIMASA, Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi, disclosed recently that to date, the programme, which started on a funding arrangement of 40:60 with the state governments, has evolved with NIMASA fully sponsoring some of the cadets. “With about 2,500 beneficiaries so far, the first set of graduates of this programme have already commenced sea time training which would lead to the award of certificates of competency”.
 
He said the agency’s target is to train up to 5,000 cadets by the year 2015 which target is certain to be achieved given the successes recorded so far. Areas of studies include nautical science, naval architecture and marine engineering. With such training, the professionals would be expected to close the capacity gaps in the country’s ship building value chain, ship manning, and navigation, among others. 
 
With oil and gas sector heading towards maximisation of the Nigerian content in the fabrication of oil and gas platforms and sundry marine engineering activities, Akpbolokemi said NIMASA believes that the products of the NSDP will provide requisite skills, for present and future companies in this regard.
 
“The Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme is a demonstration of our clear understanding that investments in the development of maritime human capacity, is our surest path to Nigerian maritime sector growth. Without isolating same from our strategic efforts to enhance the capacity of Nigerian ship-operators to acquire more vessels, we shall not be distracted in our attempt to turn the attention of the global maritime business community to Nigeria for the employment of qualified mariners by the year 2020”, he added.
 
More Maritime Institutions
Apart from MAN, Oron, NIMASA plans to build the first of its kind Maritime University in Okerenkoko, Delta State. The university is expected to commence academic programmes next year and will boost the production of maritime professionals for the sector. 
The DG disclosed recently that a Science and Technical College is also being built in Okoloba to serve as a demonstration school for the Maritime University. The agency has also established Institutes of Maritime Studies in four Nigerian universities; University of Lagos, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Niger Delta University Amasoma, Bayelsa State and Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University Lapai, Niger State.
 
The idea, according to him, is for the institutes to contribute to the production of high quality future global maritime leaders and professionals through quality maritime education, training and research. 
 
Economic Gains of Capacity Devt
The gains of having a fully developed human capacity in any shipping nation cannot be over-emphasised. It will create thousands of jobs for seafarers as well as a major foreign exchange earner for the national economy. With trained manpower, Nigeria will have enough professionals to drive the cabotage regime.
 
Apart from this, such Nigerians will be in a position to travel outside to any part of the world to work on board ships and earn foreign exchange for the country. The Philippines are known for recording huge earnings from seafaring jobs across the globe. According to NIMASA’s DG, with the Cabotage and Local Content laws in force, Nigerians will be able to take over critical aspects of the shipping and logistic trade, only if the country has the right human resource.
 
He added, “It has been argued that Nigeria loses an estimated $3billion annually to foreign seafarers. If you add the remuneration of other foreigners in the shipping and logistics chain, we would probably be talking of losing about double this amount. The implication of retaining about $6 billion in the country annually cannot be underestimated. The standard of living will improve considerably the attendant vices occasioned with unemployment. This can only happen if we have the right professionals to do the job.
 
“Besides, a lot of foreign income can also be earned from seafarers working on foreign flagged vessels. The Asian tigers are a good case in point. Reports have it that out of the over $16 billion remittances into the Philippines by the Overseas Filipino Worker (OFN), over $7 billion is generated by Filipino seafarers. If the Nigerian seafarer working overseas can attract this much into Nigeria, it will have a positive impact on the nation’s real GDP.
 
“The Philippines have not been able to achieve this feat using one maritime academy or pockets of sponsorships abroad. The Philippines have an educational infrastructure of about 90 maritime schools graduating an estimated number of 40,000 seafarers annually. This explains why 20 per cent of global seafarers are from Philippines; translating to about one in every 5 seafarers aboard a vessel being a Filipino.
 
Akpobolokemi noted that the Philippines do not own the most ships but work aboard the most vessels, adding that this can be replicated in Nigeria as well. “If we have all the vessels and do not have the requisite capacity to man them, the sector will still suffer. It is therefore instructive to have the people who will manage our fleet and the sector professionally for the benefit of the country as a first step”, he said.
 
Infrastructural Capacity
In a bid to promote infrastructural capacity, NIMASA has attracted investors who are currently building a ship-yard and dock yard along the Escravos channel in Delta State. The agency is also looking for investors to venture into the areas of ship scrapping and recycling. Akpobolokemi described this business as very lucrative; beyond 2015 when single hull vessels are expected to be phased out.

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