A tanker vessel

It was a gale of blame game between the outgoing Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi and indigenous ship owners, who accused the Federal Government of lacking the political will to truly establish a National Fleet.

Recall that the Minister had on assumption of office about three years ago constituted a National Fleet Implementation Committee NFIC charged with the responsibility of establishing a national fleet that would fly the nation’s flag and end the current situation whereby out of the 5, 307 vessels that call annually at the nation’s seaports are all foreign.

The committee headed by the Executive Secretary/CEO of the Nigerian Shippers Council, Hassan Bello had signed a Memorandum of Understanding MoU, with Pacific International Lines PIL, a Singapore-based international shipping line, which promptly took up 40 per cent equity in the new shipping line while Nigerian investors could not take up their 60 per cent due to lack of funds.

Secretary General of the African Ship-Owners’ Association, Ms. Funmi Folorunso, while speaking at a valedictory meeting organised by the Minister in Lagos Tuesday, said that the Federal Government has yet to demonstrate sufficient courage to establish a National Fleet and end the current foreign domination.

According to her, it is true the Minister put the committee in place, but however said the issue of establishing a National Fleet goes far beyond setting up a committee without addressing some inherent challenges facing the indigenous ship owners.

According to her, Ethiopia, a land-locked country has functional national shipping line because the government is sincere and has the political will to establish and run the company to the benefit of the country, arguing that when the Nigerian government is ready and sincere, it will provide the needed framework.

She told the Minister that apart from addressing the high interest rate on funds, which is about 23 per cent, the government needs to also address the twin issues of carriage of the nation’s crude oil export on the basis of Free On Board FOB and her imports on Cost, Insurance and Freight CIF as well as the availability of government cargo as enshrined in relevant laws.

The Minister while reacting, said that was the most unfair comment to him since he became Minister of Transport, saying that it was with the best of intentions that he set up the committee to sincerely establish a National Fleet to check foreign domination.

While admitting that venture failed, he accused the indigenous ship owners of failing to pick their 60 per cent equity as agreed with the Singaporean shipping line, an indication that they are not serious for business.

He also accused them of sitting and waiting for the government to spoon-feed them by providing cargo and funds for them to acquire ships, which no government in the country will be willing to do given the sad experience of the Ship Acquisition and Ship Building Fund SASBF, a revolving loan, which many of them took and refused to pay back.

It was however gathered that there were about six guarantees the government should have signed for the indigenous shipping companies with some foreign finance agencies and ship yards, which the Minister was not available to process, which constituted a major setback to the work of the committee.