Nigerian Government urged to subsidize training

Sandra Chukwunyere

 

…As stakeholders lament skill gap in Country’s Maritime Industry

 

Sandra Chukwunyere

 

Major stakeholders in the maritime industry want maritime training institutes in the country to upgrade their curricular in order to accommodate new and modern skills, needed to produce competent professionals as required in the contemporary shipping and maritime services driven by technology.

 

Among others, they also urge the Federal Government to minimize its granting of many waivers and incentives to foreign practitioners over their indigenous competitors, a practice they claimed was responsible for the dwindling fortunes of local investments in the industry.

 

The stakeholders made the call in Lagos at an interactive forum organized by the Alumni of Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron.

 

Established by the Nigerian Government in 1979 under the name, Nautical College of Nigeria, Oron and upgraded as Nigerian Maritime Academy of Nigeria through the Decree 16 of 1988, the pioneer maritime institute has the statutory mandate to train all levels and categories of personnel required for the effective and efficient operation of various facets of the Nigerian maritime industry.

 

The stakeholders forum by the Alumni of Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron, which was in its maiden edition , brought  together key stakeholders in the industry to brainstorm on issues affecting maritime education and training and its impacts on the human capacity needs of the shipping, maritime and offshore oil and gas industries.

 

Speakers and contributors generally expressed sadness that the country’s maritime industry was doing badly at the moment , mainly due to skill gap, a situation they said  if not urgently addressed would completely ground operations of local investors at huge loss to the government.

 

They explained that as technology is now applied in virtually all aspects of the operations in the maritime industry, ranging from the ships having modern features that require specialized skills  to the use of sophisticated equipment and sometimes computer based solutions in cargo clearance among others, there was need to impact the relevant skills in the new breed of seafarers.

 

In a lecture on “Shore-Based Maritime Industry and the need for trained professionals”, the President of Ship Owners Association of Nigeria, Mr. Greg Ogbeifun, said given the high cost training seafarers, the most practical solution to the skill gap in the maritime industry was for government to subsidize the training, even as he underlined the stoppage of government sponsored training programs, over a decade ago as the reason for the problem that the industry was confronted with.

 

“The number of people who are trained and skill- qualified are not enough to meet the requirement. And the reason why they are not enough is that since the demise of the Nigerian National Shipping Line, about 16 years ago, which was a platform that created opportunity to train people like us properly, there is no popular articulated alternative or substitute to the national line. So, that caused the gap.

 

“Some of us who have gone into the business of ship owning are now making efforts under difficult conditions to try and train. It cost approximately 20,000 dollars to train a cadet. For a private enterprise like us, it is difficult, especially granted that the relevant agencies are taking so much away from us. And because it is voluntary, you find that most people are not bothered to train.

 

“If for example NIMASA comes out and say, why don’t we take 10 percent of that to encourage local people? If you are a ship owner and you train a cadet, they give you 20 percent off your cost of training as a motivation. If they now make it a policy to give every ship owner 20 percent for every cadet trained, all the ship owners in the country will start to train their seafarers, because you cannot collect the money and not train.  But when you are not even given a dime, you cannot force anybody to train. So it is the collective responsibility. By making the ship available, ship owners are creating employment and helping to reducing the unemployment rate in the country, which is a huge contribution. And we should be appreciated.

 

Underlining myriads of other challenges making it difficult for indigenous ship owners to be competitive, Ogbeifun alleged that the drop in the volume of petroleum products transported daily, coupled with huge duties charged by NIMASA was causing them to operate at loss, with many ship owners unable to repay their loans, thereby reducing the number of operating ships by 40 percent or more.

 

He said most of the redundant ship which were seized by banks, are packed on the Marina-Lagos axis of the Atlantic Ocean.

 

His word;

‘‘It is getting worse, unless there is urgent intervention. When got the facility to bring the vessel, the contract was approved for X thousand dollars per day. When oil price crashed, they reduced it to point 8 X of the original price .Now the bank that gave me the money, gave me the loan based on X. After six months, if nothing happens, the vessel has to be grounded. You see the challenge. The banks are taking over the ships and the banks are not permitted to run ships, so they pack them in Marina.  In an ideal country, the relevant authorities would come together and say, what we do. They will call ship owners, what are the challenges? Is either they will call the banks and negotiate with the banks. If for example NIMASA that is in the centre of this, says okay, this huge money we are collecting, how can we use it to keep at last this thing alive? But that is not happening. We can’t force it to happen. And when you cannot force it to happen, then the industry will begin to shrink and die gradually, and that is what is happening now. Many ship owners can’t just do business. Some have lost their houses; some have lost everything because they wanted to create opportunity. So we need to start putting our fingers where the issues are.

He lamented the exorbitant taxing of indigenous ship owners over their foreign counterparts.

 

“If I am bringing a vessel flying the Nigerian flag, I have to pay full importation duty. If am bringing the vessel with foreign flag which is coming on temporary importation, you post a bond of one percent of the value. So already, being a Nigerian, you are at disadvantage in your country. And these are some of the challenges which government can look at to make it easier for you to keep operating, keep employing, keep training, and keep improving the welfare of the seafarers.

 

Another speaker, Mr. Charles  Wami, the CEO of Charkins Centre, who identified funding as among factors fueling the  skill gap in the maritime sector, encouraged Maritime Training Institutes to synergize among themselves , through sharing of modern equipment, manpower and innovative ideas, to ensure that that their graduates come out top notch.

 

Represented by Akintayo Akinbode, an Executive Director Technical Section, Mr. Wami ,  said Maritime training institutes must urgently accredit more relevant courses  in line with global standards ,  to be positioned to deliver primary academic training, to drive the critical industry.

 

“For us as a nation, to adequately meet the needs of our shipping industry, as well as the maritime services aspect of our offshore oil and gas industry, our MTIs require to be certified, accredited and be positioned to deliver primary academic training and the specialist training that are further required to make the certificates that we issue acceptable beyond our shores. The flag administration has a major role in this.

 

“Most of the institutions the older seafarers amongst us attended had training equipment that was adequate for that time and it introduced us to life at sea; you know what you were signing up to before you stepped on the ship. Our training was in phases and you couldn’t bypass the process or apply a short cut.

 

“In today’s shipping, technology advancement has taken over the functions of the old seafarers. Controversial as this may sound, the best way forward will be to teach the basics in nautical science, marine engineering, electrical engineering, and hotel services; then strengthen the training with adequate exposure to the modern tools of the trade.

 

“Ships now carry less and less crew, training slots have become much fewer; the simulator trainings are now needed to make up for the loss of dedicated shipboard trainers.

 

“The introduction of computers into shipboard operations such as navigation, engine room services has gradually taken away the back-breaking tasks seafarers used to be faced with but the responsibilities still remain that of the seafarer. We have computerized systems, position keeping systems, power management systems and communication systems that practically work with minimal intervention from the seafarer.

 

“These however imply the acquisition of new and very modern skills by the seafarer to adequately manage these systems and restore functionality in emergencies.

 

“Even cargo operations have not been spared. Computers run boarding operations by calculating full stresses, optimal fuel consumptions and providing best conditions in which to sail vessels for profit optimization. Weather forecasts are now available all year round to help the seafarer and the ship owner in routing of vessels, he said.

 

In the same vein, the Head of Maritime safety and Seafarers Standard of NIMASA, Captain Sunday Umoren said while it was necessary for Maritime training institutes in the country to adopt best practices in training , including collaborating with one another in sharing resources, the role of government in  providing an enabling environment, was important.

 

Umoren whose lecture was themed, “Seafarers Standards and Training to meet Specific needs of the Nigerian Maritime Industry”, stressed the need for focused planning to get the best, just like countries including Philippines and others who have gotten it right did to get to where they are today.

 

While speaking on a Welcome address,

the President of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron(AMANO )  Alumni – Engineer Austin Umezurike pointed out

the need to bring more funds, attention,  expertise and relevant traing equipment into the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron, lamenting that while the Nigerian seafarers were so close to the Eldorado, they nonetheless remained still, stagnantly far.

 

It was a sad atmosphere, when one of the seafarers, Captain Garba Gajere, while addressing the forum narrated the very hash working condition that they were subjected to by ship owners who at a glance considered them as incapable just because they are blacks.

 

“Nigeria is a home to one of the oldest maritime academies in West Africa, as well as numerous marine institutions.  “Over the years the Nigerian government through various initiatives has spent resources in training maritime professionals overseas” and wondered why there is still pronounced proliferation of foreigners in the offshore oil and gas and marine industry, with trained Nigerians, abysmally marginalised.

 

While calling for government’s intervention, Gajere said they were treated as second class citizens, not given choices and were paid peanuts while their foreign counterparts who sometimes were less competent received jumbo pays.

 

In a message to the occasion, The Managing Director Nigerian Ports authority, Hadiza Balla Usman, represented by Mrs. Patricia Abohw, the Assistant  General Manager Training, agreed on the need to develop a strategic training to bridge the skill gap in the maritime industry, underlining priority areas including IMO standards, communication, computer assisted learning  and simulator training , just as she called for financial support from government and the need for trained examiners in the various maritime training institutes.

 

It was the concencus of participants that no efforts should be spared in ensuring that Nigerian professionals are well trained to be fully in control of the nation’s Maritime Industry, as according to them the interest of the country would be better protected in the hands of indigenous players , unlike foreigners whose major interest is to milk the country dry.

 

The event had in attendance top officials of NIMASA, representatives of the various shipping companies in the country , the chief of naval staff, who was represented.

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