Stories by Isaac Anumihe
Since April 3, 2017 when Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) directed owners of abandoned ships, especially wrecks to remove them from the nation’s waterways on or before April 28, 2017, or forfeit them, there has been little or no compliance with that directive.
NIMASA had threatened it would draw its powers from the Merchant Shipping Act of 2007 and other enabling Acts of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and other instruments to achieve its threat. The agency in that directive warned that all abandoned ships would be declared as wrecks and that it would ensure that nothing impedes safe navigation in the waters.
The Director General of NIMASA, Dr Dakuku Peterside, further said the sanctions include removal of such wrecks at the owners’ expense as well as forfeiture of the vessels.
But in spite of this threat, owners of these wrecks have not heeded to the directive while NIMASA has not applied any sanction against the offenders prompting the users of the waterways to worry that it’s gradually becoming a toothless bulldog.
Stakeholders said that NIMASA which has more responsibilities than it can handle also does not have a clear-cut mandate and powers to enforce its threat. They also posited that NIMASA’s duties overlap with that of Nigerian police, Nigerian Navy, Nigeria Customs Service and even some private organisations that patrol the waterways.
Against this backdrop, industry watchers called for inter-agency collaboration to tackle the menace in view of the threat of erosion which is claiming more lands.
Nigeria is a party to the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks (Nairobi Convention 2007). The convention is a treaty of the IMO which stipulates a prompt and effective removal of shipwrecks located in the parties’ territorial waters including its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that may be hazardous to navigation or environment. The convention gives states the authority to remove wrecks and in Nigeria’s case, NIMASA.
According to a freight forwarder, Chief Osita Chukwu, the wrecks can cause havoc on the waterways, regretting that the person at the helm of affairs of NIMASA is not a professional and might not know the dangers of wrecks on the waterways.
“Vessels will be avoiding the wrecks and they will not be free of pilotage. So, such a thing can cause another havoc on the waterways. For this reason, marching order should be given to NIMASA to get rid of all the wrecks. The person that is at the helm of affairs in NIMASA is not an expert and so he might not know the danger. He should focus mainly on how to remove those wrecks to enable the waterways be free so that vessels will be able to pass freely” he said.
Also speaking, Senior Special Assistant to National President of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) on Shipping Company and Terminal Operations, Mr Pius Ujubuonu observed that NIMASA’s seaming failure may stem from the overlapping functions with other government agencies namely, Nigerian police, Nigerian navy, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigeria Customs Service and some private companies who also patrol the waterways. He argued that NIMASA’s authority is after 24 nautical miles and wrecks are not found in those areas.
“I think there should be an emergency on shipwreck and solid waste removal within our continental shores because we are having piles. The Atlantic Ocean is getting warmer and higher. Possibly it will impact negatively on our continental areas.
“NIMASA is having more than its responsibility interfacing and interacting with so many government agencies and with overlapping functions. NIMASA has to interface with navy, police, customs and even some private security personnel. The functions should have been a little bit clearer so that overlap of duties should be known. We have the Nigerian Police whose responsibility is 24 nautical miles; we have Navy who has 200 nautical miles.Then we have Customs who patrols within the territorial waters of Nigeria. A pirate can wear police uniform or customs uniform or naval uniform. These things create problem. And then for you to now mobilise people who will remove these wrecks, you will need clearance. Even if you have NIMASA’s clearance, you have to provide the logistics. So, it is not something cheap.
“The clearing of the waterways is partly the responsibility of NIMASA and partly the responsibility of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) because you are talking about ports and harbor and you talk about the sea itself. The wrecks are not on the sea because anything less than 24 nautical miles on the sea is like land. The wrecks are within the port areas. You hardly have a shipwreck within 24 nautical miles. Part of dredging responsibility is removing the wrecks.
An intervention fund should be made available and there should be an inter-agency collaboration to achieve this. Since we have started having erosion, if we don’t do anything, erosion will continue to claim more land,” he said
Another freight forwarder, Mr Olusegun Ologbese, said that the presence of the wrecks contravenes both the sanitation and environmental laws and the agencies responsible should be taken to task.
“The government does not care for the people and that is why they allow such things to exist on our waterways. The wrecks contravene the sanitation and environmental law. NPA should be held responsible because there is no way a ship will call Nigeria without due clearance by NPA. They (NPA) should be held responsible . It is dangerous particularly for navigation,” he noted.