Why Indigenous Ship Owners Are Hurting – SOAN President

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   …Calls for reforms on NPA

Dr MK George Onyung, president of Shipowners Association of Nigeria, SOAN was at the 5th Anniversary of Platforms Communications, held recently in Lagos with the theme: “A day with maritime students.” He spoke with ELIZABETH UWANDU on sundry issues affecting the maritime industry. Excerpt:  

You were at the recently held 5th Anniversary of Platforms Communications as chairman of the programme, what do you think the students stand to benefit from the event?

Well, they (students) invited us, and with the theme of the programme “beyond sea time,” first is that it is maritime-related. Ideally, these students after their training should be driving the affairs of this industry in the next 30 years. So, the programme created an avenue to present some opportunities and challenges to them. There is a saying that “if you have an old generation, then the nation has a past, and if you have a young generation, then the nation has a future.”

Do you think the Nigeria Maritime Institute is prepared to produce the manpower for the industry?

Well, I am not a policymaker, but I know that if there are not enough trained manpower, it will affect the expansion of the industry. In Nigeria as we all know, planning has been a problem. However, the truth is that if we look at innovations, and look at ourselves, where we are, then we will want to understand where we are going. Actually, what we have is not enough, as the growing population of seafarers require more institutions for proper training. Of course, not everybody will benefit from university education, and since shipping is 90 per cent global trade, I believe that if we harness the resources, the energy of the youths in this sector, the economy of this the country will bloom again.

The immediate past minister of transport halted the overseas National Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP), do you think it was a good decision for the industry?

The then Minister knows why he didn’t approve it. Overseas training for Seafarers isn’t new; Nigeria has been training students abroad for many years now. So, if someone has thought it wise to stop it and think of developing institutions in Nigeria to take care of that need, I think it is a good step. I am just saying that we should have had it years back.

Considering the role of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation’s (NNPC) in the downstream sector of the oil and gas, and the issue of few jobs for ship owners, what is the prospect of employment for trained manpower in the maritime sector?

Well, NNPC is trying to meet a need. The challenge is that we do not have so many vessels – like the VLCCs, that is, very large crude carrier. They are trying to cover a gap. However, you see that gap that they are trying to cover will have to start somewhere. For the downstream, as you said, there is need for them to hire Nigerian ships. I will plan to get my team to seat and try to see innovative ways we will use to solve this problem. It is not an insurmountable problem, it is something I feel we will try our best to correct having invested money in shipping and also considering that we owe our banks.

We are training students, and it does not make sense that we are not harnessing the resources in a cohesive, collaborative manner. NNPC cannot be veering this tangent. NIMASA, and other institutions are training other students, these trainees end up on the streets. Therefore, there must be a meeting point. We plan to have an issue-focused group that will engage NNPC. We have been meeting with them, familiarizing our executive with them and have written to them. We hope to have meaningful dialogue in a collaborative non-confrontational manner to address this issue.

What are your plans as the new SOAN president? 

My plan will soon be unfolded. I am going into a consultative phase now. When I am done with consultation, I will call you people together and we will talk about it. I believe I will do my best in my tenure. I will try to give a face-lift to the Nigeria shipping industry. We are planning a major event. It will be a very inclusive innovative dialogue with all industry players. As you know, the human body is the most complex equipment you can deal within the universe, so ships are the next big thing, and definitely, we are going to make something out of the industry that everybody will be happy about.

The gridlock leading to the nation’s seaport in Apapa has been a major source of worry even with the Presidential directives that the trucks and trailers should vacate the roads, what do you think should be the proper channel to address the situation?

 I think the solution is planning. The President can give orders, he is the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and we have to obey him. The government gave Orders and the roads are a bit free now. It is like water dredging, you push sand into the water, it flows to another place and causes flooding in areas you never can imagine.

We have plans to talk with the management of NPA as ships that bring containers into the country are increasing. I understand that so many containers are trapped in the ports, so we need to have a more organised plan about the ports. From my experience, nobody builds a port in a city. The Apapa and Tin Can ports are now in the city. If you look around the world, cities are far away from the port. If you remember, the nearest town or city to Ikeja Airport was Surulere many years ago. And if the Airport authority did not mark out the Airport land, by now Mafoluku would have been in the airport. Ajegunle is at the seaport, and people are living in the seaport more or less.

I think something needs to be done in the development of the ports. A lot of reforms need to come into play at the ports. This is big business, as 90 per cent of global trade is shipping. Shipping involves everything.  We are trying to engage the government properly to understand that this is a critical area for economic growth, and we cannot be excluded from so many things. 

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