A Deputy Registrar of the Liberia Maritime Authority who is an alumni of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron, Capt Anthony Onoharigho, Ph.D, has urged relevant authorities to latch onto the present upgrade at MAN in securing presence at the global seafaring market.
A certified chartered marine surveyor, trainer and resource person, Onoharigho lamented that as a major maritime nation, Nigeria’s participation in the world seafaring market index is unspeakably low and tasked the federal government to leverage on the repositioned Academy to correct the abysmal deficit.
The former National President of Nigerian Institute of Shipping this interview also lamented the attitude of ship owners who continue to take their ships outside the country to dry dock, declared that Nigeria possess the workshop and manpower to carry out dry dock services locally.
Authoritative and clearly passionate in Nigeria’s maritime issues, he spoke on a wide range of issues in the front burner, even as averred that Nigeria will do better with open ship registration as against the current state flag regime. Excerpt:
BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
There are concerns that many people are not aware of the opportunities in the maritime and allied industries, what is responsible for this?
Half of Southern Nigeria is water, the rivers and ocean from the lower Niger and beyond. Notwithstanding the size of our territorial waters nothing relating to water/maritime is taught in our primary and secondary schools except a subject like geography until one gets to tertiary institutions. So much awareness about maritime potentials are not there. Our people only do courses mainly relating to law, marine engineering, medicine, accounting and so on. Most of us who went into nautical science did so out of choice. The media have a wide role to play in this, to help people know about the vast opportunities in the maritime sector. The oil companies should equally help in this regards. Look at our ecological systems that are being destroyed, yet the entire coastal regions have oil and maritime potentials that can make us live comfortably yet our people are not getting jobs in oil companies and shipping companies due to the lack of awareness and none ultilisation of our maritime potentials.
As a ship surveyor with international exposure and one who have boarded vessels for over two decades how would you describe the sea trade from a practical perspective, especially on the backdrop of being a maritime scholar?
As a marine surveyor you must first be a sailor. The sea trade is an international trade. Many maritime nations survive on sea trade like Philippines which depend on earnings from seafaring. Many maritime nations’ economies are dependent on income from maritime and its allied services. So we need more sailors in Nigeria because most of the ships are manned by foreigners especially Philippines. But with the upgrade in facilities in Maritime academy of Nigeria, Oron and the role of NIMASA things are certainly going to get better. Also, as a marine surveyor my role is to make sure that a ship is sea worthy before it can sail in our territorial waters. It requires a lot of intelligence to be a ship surveyor and I have been doing it for years. I was the representative of IRS for 4 years before I went to Conarina Group a company based in Miami, United states. One thing I have discovered is that most international oil companies, IOCs, formed cartels and that is why they are the only companies hired in our territorial waters. Even our local vessels owned by indigenous operators suffer the same fate. But generally speaking shipping or maritime is very broad. Apart from crewing a vessel/ship, you need to register the vessel, the ship/vessel will be inspected from time to time through flag state inspection, aside equipping the ship/vessel with the necessary radio/communication facilities and personnel. The maritime and its allied industries can create so much resource that is three times what we get from crude oil in Nigeria in addition to generating so much employment for our teeming youths.
You come across as the only black man that currently owns a class company in Nigeria, what does class mean to the common man?
Class company is not a classroom (laughs), it is called a specialized service known as ship classification. Every vessel that goes into the water must be seen to be sea worthy. My role as a ship surveyor is like a Vehicle Inspection Officer, VIO. We check the safety, steel, crew, mechanics, propeller, rodder etc of vessels. If after inspection, you find the vessel sea worthy, you certify the vessel as sea worthy. That is just one of the things l do with my classification company. I am a technical Director of the Class company based in the United States
And what would you say is responsible for many shipping companies taking their vessels out of Nigeria for dry docking?
Well, ship owners have the right to take their vessels for dry docking anywhere in the world. But before now Cameroun, South Africa and Abijan were the destinations for dry docking of vessels in West Africa. But why should a ship owner take a vessel to Abijan or South Africa for dry docking like you asked? Ordinarily, I don’t have a dry dock but I engage the service of dry docking company for maintenance. We should encourage people to do dry docking of their ships in Nigeria.
Do we have the manpower and equipment for dry docking in Nigeria?
Nigerdock and NISCO trained so many persons that can do welding and maintenance of vessels, besides we have people who have gone outside Nigeria to specialize in dry docking and have established their own dry docking facilities. So it is not a matter of whether we have our own manpower, it is a function of patronage and mindset of ship owners.The problem for now is that there is no patronage for indigenous dry docking companies, people doing business with us should develop the mindset to patronize our local docking companies.
What is your take on the Cabotage law enacted in 2003 to help indigenous ship owners, seafarers and ship building process in Nigeria?
Cabotage is an area of interest to me because my Ph.D was on cabotage. For me cabotage is a complete failure. The law says ship should be built in Nigeria and manned by Nigerians. Though there were provisions for waivers in the implementation of the cabotage law but I must say that the cabotage policy implementation has not helped indigenous ship owners. Go and ask them if you are in doubt.
Despite political assurances at every interval, the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund, CVFF, has been moribund. With the appointment of the new minister of transportation, there have been demands for the Fund disbursement, what is your position?
This is what the fund was meant for so it should be disbursed. The money there can acquire ULCC, Ultra Large Crude carrier, or VLCC, Very Large Crude Carrier. I think we can buy 3 VLCC vessels jointly owned by the government and used to lift crude oil. First it will enable Nigeria get the insurance and freight carriage, I &F, instead of cost and freight, C & F, practice thereby depriving indigenous ship operators of making gains from the nation’s maritime potentials by getting businesses from possibly the NNPC. The crew of the VLCC vessels will carry minimum of 20 to 40 persons depending on the cabin capacity and if the crew comprise all Nigerians for instance, it creates room for employment. That is what the disbursement of the CVFF will help to address because vessels are very expensive and if an individual buys one, there should be government patronage. That was the reason for the Jones Act in the United States. Our own cabotage law was equally intended to benefit and protect indigenous ship owners. It is not late to address it. The CVFF disbursement will turn Nigeria economy around. In Iran, their crude oil is sold on C &1 not FOB – Free on board.
You are one of the key users of our territorial waters. How safe is our territorial waters and how can we make it safer?
A time came we went for the Gulf of Guinea conference and everyone was worried. It got to a point that when people sail in the waters they carry arms to protect their vessels and crew. Many reasons account for why the waters are not safe. In the US, they have coast guards. We have the Navy but do we have them enough to police the entire territorial waters? Even if we do, people are hungry in this country as such they are prepared to do anything to make the water unsafe. If we compliment the role of the navy with another security outfit to protect our coastlines, it will help us greatly because we are losing so much every day in our territorial waters to pirates and so on. People go to United Arab Emirate everyday yet our children have been home because of strike. We need to address the insecurity problem. Our land is not safe, the water is not safe though the navy and army are doing their best.
Cadet training is a major issue in Nigeria because Nigeria has no vessel for sea time experience. What does that portends for our economic potential in seafaring?
Training is key to every country; it is the bedrock of development in any country. A Chinese boy can develop toy in hours. In our time the federal government was training people free, I am a beneficiary because ITF paid part of my school fees. However that has changed. Maritime Academy of Nigeria Oron for instance that ought to produce majority of the country’s captains and seafarers was neglected for decades. If it was maintained just as the maritime Academy in Egypt, the school would have been competing with other academies abroad before now. But then where do the cadets do their practical training when Nigeria as a maritime nation has no ship. The maritime academy of Nigeria has no ship for training. We must manage our resources, if the CVFF was used to buy vessels for indigenous ship owners and MAN Oron, an academy recognized by International Maritime Organisation, IMO, Nigeria would not be complaining of training vessel? It is indeed a big shame.
In West Africa only 3 maritime academies are recognized by IMO and Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron is one of them, but other private maritime academies/universities have been established of late in Nigeria. Aside NBTE and other approvals, are certificates issued by these academics/university recognized outside Nigeria?
Nigeria maritime institutions work with IMO’s rating. For you to get international rating, you must have high training standard that is in compliance with internationally accepted standard as agreed to by all IMO member nations. Recognition by IMO is key, because compliance with IMO’s standard is what IMO will use to rate member nation and manpower training, training curriculum, certification, and so on.
As the Deputy Registrar of the Liberia Maritime Authority, what can Nigeria do differently to achieve better income yielding ship registration?
In Nigeria we need to do open registry. Annual renewal of flag will make Nigeria popular internationally as a maritime nation. Also the more flagged vessels we have and possibly with Nigerian crew meaning the crew have Nigeria sea man passports, Nigeria Discharge booklet etc, the more rating Nigeria will get by IMO. For instance Liberia is the highest flag country in Africa because most ships carry Liberian flag. The more certificate or certification you get the more job you get in the international sea trade. As for the existence of more private maritime academies, I will speak for my own Conarina Maritime Academy only. Most of my cadets are on Liberia flag and that is the advantage they have to be able to work on board vessels anywhere in the world, since shipping is an international business.
How many courses are approved for your academy by NBTE and NIMASA?
We have NBTE’s approval for nine courses. For NIMASA approved short certificate courses, they are in our leaflet but let me say they are three; STEW, ISPC and Associated in Engine & Deck.
Aside utilizing Liberia flag ships for the sea time training of cadets, do you feel disappointed that Nigeria has no training ships for its cadets?
It’s not about being disappointed, it’s about appealing to the government to do the needful. At Conarina Maritime Academy, we have a small training vessel for practical experience but then we have not started training cadets in nautical science and we have workshop for marine engineering. Like l said we have a small training boat, we have water front/river for moving of vessel. What is important is for a ship cadet/ nautical scientist to be able to move a vessel effectively through the river or ocean. Even if you go to a maritime university and you can not move a vessel or ship in the end, what does it amount to? At our maritime academy the focus is practical so that when you graduate from our institution, you should be able to compete with anyone anywhere in the world. At present, we do associate training of maritime engineers and nautical science (Deck), so the training vessel is of great importance to us.
There are reports of discrimination against seafarers with lesser or unrecognised certificates, short courses certificates particularly?
Sometime in the past you find only one black man working with 200 foreigners in a foreign ship, that is beginning to change. What you call unrecognized certificates may be certificate gotten by seamen from possibly countries that are not on the list of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA. However, with the Maritime Academy of Nigeria you can do COC and conversion. But one very important thing is that there is a need to let NIMASA accept Nigerians conversion of their certificates to foreign and equally allow foreigners to convert their certificates to its equivalent in Nigeria. For instance, I have Liberian class 1, Cyprus class 1, or Nigeria class 3. At what point can you say that the various classes of certificates are equal to the ones issued by other maritime institutions? There is so much discrimination against some countries that are not on NIMASA approved list.
With the new educational policy that has phased out HND, do you think that MAN Oron should be converted into a maritime university as is been debated?
In the first instance, the Nigeria Maritime University Okerekoko is already a university. I know that MAN Oron is also being planned to be a university going by the presentation made to the national assembly which has passed second reading. With the new policy of government, it is either government merge NMU Okerekoko with MAN Oron or vice versa.
Considering the fact that IMO is also giving preferences to practical training of seafarers and following conventions signed by maritime member countries, will it be wise for IMO member countries to turn the over 500 maritime academies spread across the globe into maritime universities?
If we at look at IMO treaty and use it to develop teaching manuals for MAN Oron in line with the training standard for seafarers internationally, it will be wise to adhere to IMO’s regulations. Training of seafarersin maritime academies is practical oriented while training in maritime universities is about research and theory. But if they want to convert maritime academies to universities it should be a maritime Technology based university.
What gives you joy and what advice do you have for upcoming cadets or young persons who want to take up the sea trade?
The sea trade is very interesting and full of exploits. It has vast opportunities. I encourage young people ready to take up the sea trade to be dedicated, committed and steadfast. It is what I have done all my life and seeing people grow gives me joy. Indeed, building human capacity and ensuring that ships are safe to sail in the waters globally gives me joy. Staying with my people and contributing to nation building are my greatest passion.
As a global logistics veteran what do you think we need to do to correct Nigeria’s poor logistics performance index, taken into consideration changing service environment, technological innovations and planning by countries and operators in the logistics chain
What we need to do is to improve our road network and transport system. Try to imagine how long it takes to get to Ikeja airport from Apapa ports compare it to other countries in the world. That is just one singular example of how to correct our poor logistics index.