The National Fleet Implementation Committee NFIC has said it is currently clearing some legal and institutional impediments that would pave way for the establishment of a sustainable National Fleet for Nigeria.

Chairman of the committee and Executive Secretary/CEO of the Nigerian Shippers Council, Hassan Bello, who spoke in an interview at the sidelines of the just concluded Day of the Seafarers which seeks to encourage more women participation in the shipping industry, observed that a total of $9billion in terms of freight on dry cargo was earned in Nigeria in 2015, all of which went to foreign ship owners because of the absence of a vessel on Nigeria’s fleet.

He noted that this has serious negative implications on creating jobs for Nigerian seafarers and cadets including women, the banks, insurance companies, ship building and ship repair yards and the overall national economy, a development that makes it urgent for the country to have a sustainable or enduring national fleet.

But he also observed that in the course of the work of the committee, which he insists is a three-year programme, it has been established that there exists some major impediments in terms of laws, policies, taxes and business practices that must be cleared to create the necessary environment if the National Fleet project must work.

To achieve this, it was gathered that the NFIC is working with the National Economic Management Team headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Department of Petroleum Resources DPR, Federal Ministry of Finance, the Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Investment Promotion Council NIPC, Federal Ministry of Budget and National Planning, Federal Inland Revenue Service FIRS and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency NIMASA to achieve this objective.

Investigations also showed that among the policies and laws that may need to be tinkered with is the carriage of the nation’s exports and imports on the basis of Free On Board and Cost, Insurance and Freight CIF, respectively, both of which are injurious to the nation’s economy as well as the high import duty rate on the importation of vessels and vessel spare parts, which make the Nigerian shipping lines uncompetitive with their foreign counterparts, who acquire vessels with less than three per cent interest and less than two per cent import duty rate.

“The establishment of the National Fleet is a three-year programme, we want clear some impediments both subjective and objective that would create the right atmosphere for the National Fleet to thrive. Mind you the Federal Government is not putting down a kobo and so we want to make the environment right for the private sector both local and foreign to put down their money.

“It is not just enough to say that we want more women to take interest in the shipping industry but where are the ships? When we create the necessary environment that would make the fleet to thrive, we also create incentives that would be attractive to the investors because it is not just acquiring ships that would shut down tomorrow but we want a sustainable National Fleet that would stand the test of time”, Bello also said.

While lamenting the low level of shipping activities among the indigenous operators in Nigeria, he noted that shipping contributes a paltry 0.1 per cent to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product GDP, which is far less than the contribution of the Nollywood industry, which is an aberration, given the vast maritime endowments at the disposal of the country, most of which are untapped.

He also disclosed that with the involvement of NIMASA, the National Fleet, when fully operational, would be given a National Carrier status, which implies that it would carry all government cargo, which would include crude oil, various materials for rail and power projects as well as other sundry cargo belonging to government agencies.