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‘Customs Gunboats Receiving Attention’ – Salefu

BY EGUONO ODJEGBA

The marine operations of the Nigeria Customs Service is receiving a rebound as the Service is believed to be tying up arrangements to acquire two more gun boats, this time from Singapore in addition to the ongoing maintenance of its existing two Seafarers, ‘Customs Pride’ and ‘Group of Nine’.

One of the controversial gun boats

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Above efforts is coming on the backdrop of directive by the Ag. Comptroller General of Customs, Bashir Adewale Adeniyi MFR, to also re-activate the two moribund vessels and increase the customs marine fleet, during his maiden tour of South Western Zone.

Comptroller Odaudu. A. Salefu, the Customs Area Controller of Western Marine Command who disclosed above Monday, explained that the CGC had during his maiden tour of the command directed the consultants handling Customs Pride and Group of Nine to embark on a holistic overhaul of the two seafarers within the shortest possible time to allow for their deployment.

Comptroller Salefu fileding questions from journalists when he met with leaders of maritime beat associations in his office, earlier today

According to Salefu, the delay in deploying the vessels may not be unconnected with the ships consultant, Portplus Limited, who has yet to submit the position paper regarding requisitions for the cost of maintenance and or repairs the two seafarers.

He further explained that the apparent abandonment of the two gun boats which became issue of media attention recently stemmed from a contractual differences between Customs and the vessels’ consultant, Portplus Limited, allegedly on the backdrop of report that the erstwhile CGC, late Abdullahi  Dikko did not handover Portplus contractual documents of the vessels to his successor, Col. Hammed Ali (Rtd).

Clarifying the grey veil surrounding the two controversial vessels, particularly on efforts by the current leadership of the NCS to revitalize and put them into operational use, Salefu said, “Ahead of CG’s tour of Lagos Commands, the first place he visited was the marina, to inspect the 2 ocean going vessels. We received him there as early as 7am and he asked questions on the state of the vessels. The consultant gave an outrageous cost when the CG asked what it would take to get the vessels operational in 30-40 days.

“Subsequently, the CG gave an order that the vessels should be operational within 40 days and I swiftly followed up with correspondence to Portplus but it took about 3 weeks to get their response; plus the fact that the consultants are saying they are also having the challenge of space to dry dock the vessels.”

He also debunked reports by a section of the maritime media that the two vessels were acquired for N180billion, even as he disputed the reported figure of N500million being the annual maintenance cost, saying the actual estimate is about N23million.

Giving assurances on efforts been put in place to get the two vessels sail into the sea and raise the bar of anti-smuggling combat to curtail smuggling via the sea and waterways, Salefu said:

“Last week, I had a meeting for over 3 hours with Portplus and they announced to me that they have been re-awarded the contract. Nevertheless, I want to announce that the vessels weren’t acquired for N180billion. I’ll give the total cost of the contract and cost of maintenance as soon as I receive the official copies.

“Because there are also space constraints for the vessels at the Naval dockyard for dry-docking, the consultants are considering utilizing Niger Dock, among other alternatives. The latest is that the contract for the 2 Customs vessels has been re-signed and the consultant has moved into action. Very soon, we’ll see our two ocean-going vessels sailing again,” he assured.

The flagship customs marine commander also punctured media reports that the command was deficient in the required manpower to crew the gun boats, noting that nothing can be farther than the truth.

He assured that the command has a pool of 180 qualified marine personnel to man the vessels as soon as they are re-fleeted, noting that out of the above number of marine officers, majority of them had recently,  undergone intensive navigational training at the Maritime Academy of Nigeria.

To buttress his point, he explained that 3 officers of the command have been sent to Singapore for specialized training, even as the command has also identified areas of human capital needs for the vessels, and has informed the headquarters of the needs.

To further buttress the command’s operational capacity, Salefu said that since assuming control of the command, 15 smaller gun boats have been provided by the customs management to enable them enhance their operation.

‘Presently, we go up to 140 nautical miles, when the two ocean going vessels are ready, we will be able to do 300 nautical miles and our anti smuggling operations will improve drastically. As the vessels would soon sail, 80 officers are being trained for various operations on the vessels. At the moment, aside local capacity building l spoke about earlier, 3 personnel are in Singapore to get other areas of training.”

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