In recent times, one issue that has dominated the centre stage of the Nigerian maritime industry is that of the Secured Anchorage Area (SAA) in Lagos port operated by an indigenous firm, Ocean Marine Securities Limited (OMSL).
The seaming controversy surrounding the operation of the scheme which was initiated to salvage the damaged image of Nigeria as it concerns the safety of vessels traveling along the nation’s coastal region has been inundated with a lot of falsehood to gain cheap publicity and sympathy in some quarters.
This is done more often at the neglect of the true economic of the reality on ground.
THE FALSE ECONOMICS AND NARRATIVES
Anyone who has followed the debate as to the operation of the Lagos Port SAA project will realise that the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, and his subordinates in the Managing Director of the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman and to some extent, the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) have always painted a picture of “humongous” monies being made by OMSL in executing the project.
For instance, the minister while answering questions on a national television on the SAA recently described the project being operated in full collaboration with the Nigerian Navy as one “laced with fraud”.
Answering a question on why he thinks security services being offered by OMSL under the chairmanship of Captain Well Hosa Okunbo, via the SAA is not important, Amaechi ask the reporter rhetorically, “What security was he providing? He charges each vessel on the waters $2,500, then after that $1,500 everyday. He doesn’t pay back that money to the Federal Government.
“He makes $17million from that activity. Who approved it? Nobody!”
Speaking of the alternative solution he has to offer, he said, “As Minister for Transport, I said no, we can provide that security. $195 million was approved by the Federal Government to a company that is training Nigerians that will take over the waterways, and take care of the security, then Okunbo is now saying no no, I must do it, he can’t. I wonder why our personal interest will override national interest. I wonder what kind of country we belong to.”
While doing all he can to fault that project, the Minister challenged the OMSL chairman to come forward with the approval letter he got from the Federal Government to provide maritime security on the nation’s waterways.
“If you said Captain Hosa was doing it, how come we are currently ranked number one in the world in terms of insecurity in the maritime sector. When we came, we were number three, but now we are number one in the world.”
THE REAL FACTS
Meanwhile, even as the focus of this write-up is not to fault the Minister’s choice on the acclaim financial gain, his refusal to go ahead and explain to his viewers what it takes to maintain the ships involved in the project may not have been deliberate, but perhaps an expression of his ignorance of how companies are run.
Again, while the Minister’s proffered solution appears to be very economical and cheap on the surface, after all the country just have to spend $195million in training personal for his preferred Israeli company, Messrs HLSI Security Systems and Technologies, he failed to tell Nigerians the long-run financial implications of such deals.
While one is not canvasing the idea that the government should have a way of benefiting from OMSL’s financial gains if it indeed do exist, we must not forget that huge investment was first put in place before the perceived returns.
Those familiar with the SAA project which is a partnership between OMSL and the Nigerian Navy say the cost of vessels acquisitions and operational running cost is at no cost to Government and never mandatory for ships, rather it involves ships that desire the service (A willing buyer willing seller arrangement).
Amaechi, a man who was once quoted as saying that he doesn’t like money, seems to have now changed his mind and has refused to understand that the money been charged by OMSL which he believes should be shared are used for operational costs as well as to provide bunker fuel.
Furthermore, it would seem very irrational for the minister and NPA MD not to at the least investigate and understand the security architecture under their preview by inviting all stakeholders but to unilaterally award a contract without knowing or understanding the implications to national security and local investment which was already on ground.
These may have motivated operators who are also vocal to state vehemently that the economic value of the SAA operation cannot be overemphasized.
Reacting to the recent threat by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, to scrap the security initiative which a joint committee of the National Assembly had applauded after investigation of it’s activities, some key players in the industry charged all the parties involved in the dispute to resolve the matter amicably in the interest of the nation’s maritime economy.
One of those who expressed concern over the threat to scrap the service of OMSL on the SAA while opting for a foreign security firm is Dr McGeorge Onyung, President of the Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN).
Also, operators are optimistic that it would become very irrational for the minister and NPA boss not to at the least investigate and understand the security architecture under their preview by inviting all stake holders but to unilaterally award a contract without knowing or understanding the implications to national security and local investment which was already on ground.
To this end, it is best stated that SAA, as an economic benefit, should be replicated on other locations and why OMSL should be encouraged to even take over and manage the deep blue project because of the humongous investment by federal Government which might be another failed project
THE REAL ECONOMICS
Interestingly, the operators of the Lagos SAA, OMSL has always pointed to the fact that it’s main objective behind the initiative is ‘National Interest.’ To this end the company has modestly offered it by charging minimal cost to cover operations and maintenance. Recall, the company’s chairman, Captain Hosa Okunbo, during his presentation at the National Assembly joint committee that investigated it’s activities said, “The company has always operated on the charges incurred by fund collected from ships operating under the SAA”
Meanwhile, investigation has further revealed that it cost vessels that patronize OMSL operated SAA an average of $11,500, which works out to be $2500 for the first day and $1500 for the remaining days in a seven day period which is a maximum period that most vessels berth at SAA for the service provided.
This is against having three mercenaries costing the shipping company A WHOPPING COST OF $225,000 on a one month voyage at a cost of $2500 per mercenary which works out to at least $7500 a day over a total one month voyage of 30 days from Europe and much higher from farther destinations like singapore and United States and Far East. To this end, it leads to saving of at least $213,500 as against an initial WHOPPING cost of $225,000 before the SAA was introduced by the Navy and OMSL.
It should also be noted that the SAA traffic in a day has not been more than 20 vessels at any particular time. At each vessel paying a stipend of an average $1,650 per day works out to be $33,000 per day as earnings to OMS and with 8 vessels operating in SAA. To this end, operational cost and that of hiring these vessels average $4,150 per vessel if the vessels where to be hired by NPA or the relevant Agency.
This same vessels are hired to the oil companies for atleast $8,500 per day.
It will interest stakeholders to understand that NIMASA under the supervision of federal ministry of transport is hiring similar vessels with a contract running at $10,500 for each vessel per day and they currently have six of such vessels working with Nimasa for enforcement at a total cost of $63,000 which has no security bearings coming at almost double the cost of OMSL in rendering this very critical and security arrangement This brings to fore that indeed OMSL is on National Assignment rather than perceived misconception of profit making as the cost of $4,150 per vessel earned is to enable OMSL offset their running cost
The said amount can best be seen as a stipend compared to cost of attacks and import loss that may occur from pirate attacks, which led the shipping companies embracing such idea of operation.
Therefore, while the SAA operations continue to undergo criticism by government agencies, they (the concern agencies) refuse to accept the obvious and clear fact that the operational and maintenance cost are must to be offset, and such fund has to be included in the charges.
Unfortunately, what is more worrisome in the developing situation is the fact that before the decison to sack OMSL was carried out, stakeholders were not consulted otherwise, it would not be in the interest of any to suggest the later.
Concerns are constantly brewing to the fact that, Nigeria waters are vast and ports such as Port harcout aswell as other coastal areas are constantly been ravaged by sea pirates and operators, unavoidably in need of SAA replication to withal the storm which is costing Nigeria not only economic disadvantage but reputation snares across international mention.
Operators, however, calls for the need to set up similar services in warri and port harcourt axis to reduce the piracy and increase revenues to Government aswell as decongest the Lagos port which is now a safe haven for ships because of OMSL. The benefit of the SAA also spun in reducing the exorbitant price of shipping.
THE NEED TO ENCOURAGE LOCAL ENTREPRENEUR
Globally, specifically in nation’s where the desire for economic development and growth is the driving force behind national policies, prominence is given to local entrepreneur who ventures into terrain that has to do with security.
For instance, the Nigerian local content Act 2010 was enacted to encourage same. If this truly the case why is the Minister more interested in getting a foreign firm to come and take charge of Nigeria’s territorial waterways instead of encouraging a local investor who staked as much as $400million in purchasing vessels. Better still, the deal has the blessing of the Nigerian Navy whose mandate it is to secure the waterways. If the Navy is satisfied with the business offerings just as the owners of vessels patronizing the SAA are, why should we go for a foreign alternative at an initial cost of $195million to government for mere training? Who are going to be trained by the Israeli company, the Navy or NPA security staff? After the training, who will acquire the vessels and warships that will be required for their operations? Why place emphasis on the termination of the contract between OMSL and the Nigerian Navy which is at no cost to the government when there is no immediate alternative? If money is the issue, why not dialogue with the parties involved to work out something?
Many questions keep surfacing while trying to probe the rationale behind the quest to destroy the existing maritime security structure that has worked well for Lagos ports.
However, one cannot but submit that those opposed to SAA must consider the economics benefits of encouraging local entrepreneurs over and above foreign one. Where else can Nigerians businessman gather the necessary skills and experience to grow? Practice they say makes perfect. There is no better time to practice than now.
The example of Aliko Dangote is a proof that given the opportunity Nigerian entrepreneur against all odds can excel. This is why the government must ensure that willing and competent local investors are encouraged to venture into critical sectors of the economy. That way, employment, capacity building, invention, research and other components that brings about economic development would be achieved. Just as it is becoming obvious that government alone cannot provide everything, government must not be driven by the falsehood of looking for money kill initiatives that can substantially support the growth of the maritime sector.
Speaking on the issue via telephone with our reporter, Dr McGeorge who is also the Managing Director of Jevkon Oil & Gas, Nigeria Limited, said his association is very concerned about the safety of the nation’s waterways.
He stated that if nation’s waterways are not safe we will loss business, stressing that the country remain a very important vessel destination in Africa.
He, therefore, called the parties involved to come to a round table discussion and tackle the grey areas with a view to resolving them in national interest.
Responding to the question of his associates’ position on the issue, he said, ,”Our position have always been that we need a sustainable solution to security in our waters.”
On the danger of the absence of definite security outfit and impact on his members, he said, “We are ship owners we have high tickets bank transactions on and we carry heavy loans to acquire our ships and we do not want our business disrupt by hoodlums and chalantters and pirates so we would support any action whoever weather it is government, weather it is private, public that is going to ensure that our waters are safe from pirates so that we can conduct our businesses properly.”
Expatiating on why it’s vital to ensure safety for the sector’s operation, he said, “Shipping is 90 percent of global trade transaction and without shipping there is no shopping.
Dr McGeorge who stated that the association has written to President Muhammadu Buhari explained that they called his attention to the need to resolve the “confusion going on in our waters and that the president should intervene urgently. That he makes sure he calls all worrying parties to order so that we can have a safe ocean to do our business.”
SAA- A NATIONAL SERVICE PROVIDER
Speaking further, he said, “What I am trying to tell you is this, Ocean Marine is a member of our association, we are Ship Owners Association of Nigeria. He is one of our key members and that is what is stated in that letter and they are providing a service for which we are benefiting and we have taking a position with the Senate in a public hearing and that position is that, they are doing a good job and the Senate agreed with us.
“So that’s our position, they have put an investment of 400million dollars in a shipping domain where we are still struggling in financing kits and so on. So therefore we should not allow such a business to die because if it does, so many people will be out of work and the progress we have made in shipping development will be loss.
“As a president of ship owners association, all I can say is that let everybody calm down, and let everybody come to the drawing board and proffer a proper solution.
“I am not ignorant of the fact that NIMASA and Ministry of Transportation has invested money to bring another set of security apparatus, we are still waiting, we have heard about the news and we welcome that news but we are saying that if the aim is for security then they should be an integrated security arrangement that will not be merge with any kind of confusion. In other words it will be straight forward for everybody so that all parties can dialogue.
“Security is security, the aim is to make sure that our waters are secured with everybody and I don’t think it is what only Ocean Marine can do and I want to say caterigorically that, Ocean Marine is not the only company that is providing security arrangement for especially the oil servicing industries with an arrangement with the Nigerian Navy.
“There are many other security agencies that have same arrangement with the Navy. It’s not only Ocean Marine that has that arrangement so I cant see why they cannot allow all the security agencies involved to work together.
“For me it is the Navy who initiated the strategy and then leveraging with NIMASA and Ministry of transportation, they can as well now integrate a proper security structure in our waters and I don’t think it is rocket science it is something that can be done.”
According to him, if our waterways are not safe the country will loss business. He warned that Nigeria is a predominantly importer nation, stressing that apart from crude oil the country hardly export anything.
His words: “Everything that comes to us here comes through the ocean and it is those ships that brings us all those goods that we are striving on here. Traders or any kind of person doing any business rely on shipping so if we are not able to have those ships come then even our economy will be impacted.”
Also speaking in the same vein, Chief Executive Officer of First Planet Energy, Mr. Kennedy Rhima said that if the continuous engagement of Ocean Marine Solution Limited will bring about the safety and security of vessels in the Lagos Pilotage district.
He however called for a closer collaboration between the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, the Nigerian Navy and other stakeholders involved in the matter.
Rhima was of the opinion any attempt to stop the security services being provided by Ocean Marine Solution could spell doom for ships calling at the Lagos ports.
He said: “The matter has been a controversial, the safety and security of both vessels and personnel manning these vessels should be the goal of parties involved.
“I will urge Captain Okunbo to liase with the relevant agencies involved and straighten whatever needs to be straighten.”
US TRAVEL ADVISORY ON NIGERIANS
Meanwhile, last week, the United States warned her citizens of what it called the risks of traveling to Nigeria.
The warning tagged: “Reconsider travel to Nigeria,” listed proposed threats it’s citizens are likely to face if they visit the country to include, “crime, terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, and maritime crime.”
The US embassy then went ahead to list the areas with increased risk potential in the coastal region as follows: Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross Rivers, Delta, and Rivers states (with the exception of Port Harcourt) adding the restriction in this area is due specifically to crime, civil unrest, kidnapping, and maritime crime.
Interestingly, Lagos which is the commercial capital of Nigeria and a coastal city was excepted from the list even though it habour the largest seaports. A situation some experts have attributed to the SAA initiative that has reduced the cases of maritime crime in the region since it’s implementation.
NATIONAL ASSEMBLY’S EXONERATE OMSL OF FRAUD
Once again, to challenge the Minister’s claim of fraud, late last year a joint committee of the Nigerian Senate and the House of Representatives on the Nigerian Navy, Marine transport and Finance investigated claims of illegality of the operations of OMSL at the SAA in Lagos seaport. The committee came out with a clean bill of health for OMSL and offered useful suggestions on how to advance the sector.
The committee’s recommended among others, “That Ocean Marine Solution Limited (OMSL) should be commended for its genuine national interests in investing over Four Hundred Million ($400,000,000) Dollars into the Security at the Secured Anchorage Area (SAA) in particular and the Nigerian waterways in general by providing the needed platforms and logistics for the Nigerian Navy to effectively perform 24/7/365 patrol operations as well as to provide the required protection for vessels waiting to berth at the Lagos ports.”
On the issue of defrauding the nation, the committee said, “That since no fraud is found in the operations of the OMSL and is operating at no cost to government, OMSL should be allowed to continue its operation at the SAA until such a time when a better and more cost effective system is put in place by the government.
And, “That the Nigerian Navy should be properly funded to enable it procure needed vessels to clear the over one hundred and fifty (150) vessels deficit to enable them carry out their constitutional responsibilities without over depending on Private Maritime Logistics Support Companies (PMLSC).”
LOOKING AT THE MIRROR
While it is pertinent to reflect at decisions before taken then, some industry watchers have attributed the unfolding scenario to a lack of understanding of the importance of the service being rendered by OMSL to the nation’s maritime industry in particular and the Gulf of Guinea in general, others believe that it is propelled by the Nigerian fact.
Those who hold the later view wonders why some individuals after the decision by the nation’s Senate, is insisting that it is not bond by such.
What this portrait in its entirety is an attempt to create a face off between the agency and the National Assembly. Those knowledgeable about such confrontations argues that the outcome is usually not favourable to national interest.
Interestingly, the management of OMSL has remained calm over the controversy as it has refused to join issues with anybody except for the invitation of the National Assembly it had to honour.
Moreover, in what some has described as working for national interest OMSL has continue to provide security service at the anchorage to the admiration of ship owners and operators that anchor their vessels at the designated area.
Hence the happenings is perceived as despising the National Assembly and trying to flex muscles with the lawmakers. As the move is a violation of the stand of the lawmakers as reflected in the committee’s submission.
As advised by operators in the maritime industry, there indications that the management of OMSL is willing and ready to partner with the Nigerian Ports Authority on the secured anchorage area for the lager interest of the nation and its economy.
Stakeholders are however of the opinion that if the security arrangement in the Lagos Pioltage District is replicated in the Eastern and South ports, it will curb the issue of insecurity currently being experienced in that axis and boost the economy of both flanks and in turn benefits the Nigeria economy as whole. So, why threaten what is saving the economy.