Capt Patrick Iwuji began his professional life as a cadet for the defunct Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL). He graduated to become a master mariner and ran ships for the carrier for many years. He later joined the employment of the Nigerian Ports Authority and rose to the position of Chief Port Harbour Master at Apapa Port, from where he retired at the end of his career. Now, a consultant in maritime trade and general businessman, the master mariner offered spoke to DDH magazine on Nigeria’s chances for attaining success as a maritime nation, the re-floating of a new national fleet and manpower training in the industry. Excerpts:
DDH: How will owning a New National fleet benefit Nigeria as a maritime nation, especially in view of being the largest economy in Africa and her dominance in international trade?
Capt Iwuji: First of all, are we a maritime nation? Yes, we are but we are extremely limited. When we talked about maritime nations, what are the tonnages in international trade in IMO [International Maritime Organisation]? Maritime nations like Liberia, what makes them maritime nation? They have tonnages represented in IMO that makes them to have a seat, to come out in what is called “White List”. In that White List, it commands respect? What makes Liberia a maritime nation? Is it because they have money or ships? The answer is no, but they have what is called free registry, ships can come in from any country like Kuwait to register with Liberia flag. That is where you have the flag state; anything about tonnages goes to the flag state, there are lots of benefits from different areas. (1) If you carry huge tonnages, you are respected, you have a seat and you have a say, and that means you can vote to change anything that cannot be changed or that needs to be changed. But if you don’t have voice, you become an observer in an industry you feel that you own a lot but you have to align yourself with a member to speak. That’s why Nigeria needs to be a maritime Nation, to command respect in IMO, because of their populations. Now coming to the National Fleet, how many ships do we have? During the time of [former Head of State] Obasanjo, he commissioned about 19 vessels and they were given to Nigerian National Shipping Line. And as a result of poor management, poor administration, the whole vessels went, plus the other five vessels that were plying all over the oceans of the world. They froze out so that we don’t have any now. When they built refineries who are the fleet that are carrying their products? It is virtually foreigners, foreign vessels and they are earning money, freight money. You see, I can mention that we have what is called 40-40-20 code of carriage for vessels-carriers of goods. The country that owns the cargo has 40, the vessels that is buying has 40 and then the other 20 is spread out. But Nigeria doesn’t have vessels, our own is an arrangement, give me 10% you carry. Nigeria is supposed to be a hub where every goods comes to Nigeria and then we distribute to other countries like Mali, Niger Republic and the upper regions.
DDH: What practices in the running of the former carrier NNSL should be avoided in the new National fleet to be re -floated.
Capt Iwuji: Poor management should be avoided and also they should incorporate the private sectors into the system. Private participations will ginger and turn around the system, because there is no private person who will like to fail in his business. But if you leave it in the hands of government, then forget it. Why? Because anything left in the hand of government is owned by nobody. That is why it fails. Government is not a good business man. Because those government cargoes were not paid for [during NNSL]. I remembered when I did a run from here to Romania to carry few tons of cargo owned by government, was the fleet paid? No. But you pay the workers, from the captain to the last person and they earned foreign currency. You sailed from Romania back to Nigeria and then they started speaking all sorts of grammar, that government owns you. Most of the cargoes were owned by individuals in government not government as a whole. The practice of running this New Fleet now could be 60% – 40%, that is, private sector owns 60% and government 40%. Government can be fund it and the private sector pays back in 60% – 40% ratio so that on the process, they won’t collapse the business. Government can’t manage well. Before now National Maritime Authority gave loans to ships owners, but some of them abused it and they didn’t buy anything. For this new fleet to be sustenable, the government participation should be 40% and private 60%, also the Maritime bank should make sure that the people who takes loans repay the loans. There should be a surveyor to inspect vessels that are said to be purchased for Nigeria. Because some people may go to purchase vessels that were built in 1933, refurbished vessels that have no spare parts. Even the industry that manufacture the vessels are no more, and before they steam from there to here, it breaks down and that’s the end. That attitude needs to be change.
DDH: As a professional mariner, what changes can be made in the present curriculum of maritime manpower training in the country to them self-employable after their studies?
Capt Iwuji: Manpower training is something we have been talking about. Oron Maritime Academy was established in 1978. The aim was to train maritime officers, that is, foreign vessel officers and coastal home trade officers, because there is difference between foreign-going and coastal. The ones here from Nigeria to Angola are regarded as coastal vessels while the deep-sea ones are the foreign vessels that sail the whole world. They don’t carry the same certificate. Nigeria was building to have what is called a Maritime University then, a branch of [World Maritime University] Malmo, to come to Nigeria, but Ghana took it because Nigeria could not do what they were supposed to do. If we have maritime college, professionals that can teach maritime studies, both theory and practical, then channel that maritime college to maritime studies that will graduate master mariners, home trade masters, chief engineers and all the deck officers. You must have a curriculum that will be in the same line with international best practices. Professional training in the best practice should have an institution that trains maritime officers, equip them with all the facilities, practical facilities and then, there should be availability of ships, cadet ships, for them to have their sea time.
DDH: What can the Federal government do to encourage Nigerian firms to participate in maritime activities and to succeed in the venture?
Captain Iwuji: They should create open hand policy, call for private individuals who are ship owners and also have wide knowledge in ship management, bring them together and as a government, you create an enabling environment by establishing them with seminars, workshops etc. Make it easier for them to start by not being too rigid in registration demands. Some of the people here that own ships can’t run it because the facility given to them are not adequate. Even if you give them millions of dollars without the facilities being in place, it will not work, why because the ship that you are going to buy should be dry docked, and where is your dry dock? How many dry docks do we have in Nigeria that can carry the capacity you required? Nigerdock, where are the facilities? Virtually none. If they lift up, they will go down. Continental Ship Yard, owned by NPA, only God known’s when it was pumped up last.