Captain Anthony A. Onoharigho, PhD, is the first black man to own a classification company in Nigeria. He is also a deputy Registrar with Liberia Maritime Authority and equally the Chief Executive of Conarina Maritime Academy, Abraka, Delta state. He was the National President of Nigerian Institute of Shipping, former Vice President (East), Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, Nigeria and Africa regional director of Conarina group based in Miami, United Kingdom. In this interview, Captain Onoharigho spoke on a wide range of issues.
By Ovie Edomi
Q: You are one of the few Nigerians who attended the Maritime Academy of Nigeria to study Nautical Science but today you have a PhD in Transport Geography. As a Ship Surveyor who has boarded several vessels for over two decades how would you describe the sea trade from a practical perspective and as a maritime Scholar?
Ans: As a marine surveyor you must first be a Sailor. Sea trade is an international trade globally. Many maritime nations survive on sea trade and it is the reason countries like the Philippines depend on monies from seafaring. Many top maritime nations’ economies are dependent on income from maritime and its allied services. So we need more sailors in Nigeria because most of the ships are manned by foreigners, especially Filipinos. But with the upgrade in facilities in Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron and the role of NIMASA things are certainly going to get better. Also, as a marine surveyor, my role is to make sure that a ship is sea-worthy before it can sail in our territorial waters. It requires a lot of intelligence to be a ship surveyor and I have been doing it for years. I was the representative of the IRS for 4 years before I went to Conarina Group a company based in Miami, United States. One thing I have discovered is that most International oil companies, IOCs, formed carter and that is why they are the only companies hired in our territorial waters. Even our local vessels owned by indigenous operators suffer the same fate. But generally speaking, Shipping or Maritime is very broad. Apart from crewing a vessel/ship, you need to register the vessel, the ship/vessel will be inspected from time to time through flag state inspection, aside from equipping the ship/vessel with the necessary radio/communication facilities and personnel. The maritime and its allied industries can create so many resources that are three times what we get from crude oil in Nigeria in addition to generating so much employment for our teeming youths.
Q: Not many people are aware of the opportunities in the maritime and allied industries. What is responsible?
Ans: Half of Southern Nigeria is water. Check where the rivers and ocean occupy from the lower Niger and beyond. Notwithstanding the size of our territorial waters, nothing relating to water/maritime is taught in our primary and secondary schools except a subject like Geography until one gets to tertiary institutions. So much awareness about the potential in the maritime is not there. Our people only do courses mainly relating to law, marine engineering, medicine, accounting and so on. Most of us who went into nautical science did so out of choice. Journalists have a wide role to play in this region to help people know about the vast opportunities in the maritime sector. The oil companies should equally help in this regard. Look at our ecological systems that are being destroyed, yet the entire coastal regions have oil and maritime potentials that can make us live comfortably yet our people are not getting jobs in oil companies and shipping companies mainly because of lack of awareness and none utilisation of our maritime potentials.
Q: You are also the only black man who currently owns a class company in Nigeria. What does that mean to the common man?
Ans: Class company is not a classroom( laughter). It is called ship classification. Every vessel that goes into the water must be seen to be sea-worthy. My role as a ship surveyor is like a Vehicle Inspection Officer, VIO. We check the safety, steel, crew, mechanics, propeller, rodder etc of vessels. If after inspection, you find the vessel sea-worthy, you so certify the vessel as sea-worthy. That is just one of the things l do with my classification company. I am a technical Director of the Class company based in the United States
Q: Many shipping companies take their vessels out of Nigeria for dry docking. What is responsible for this?
Ans: The ship owners have a right to take their vessels for dry-docking anywhere in the world. But before now Cameroun, South Africa and Abidjan were destinations for dry docking of vessels in West Africa. But why should a ship owner take a vessel to Abidjan or South Africa for dry-docking as you asked? Ordinarily, I don’t have a dry dock but I engage the service of a dry docking company for maintenance. We should encourage people to do dry docking of their ships in Nigeria.
Q: Do we have manpower and equipment for dry docking in Nigeria?
Ans: Nigerdock and NISCO trained so many persons that can do welding and maintenance of vessels, besides we have people who have gone outside Nigeria to specialize in dry docking and have established their own dry docking facilities so it is not a matter of whether we have our own manpower it is a function of patronage and mindset of ship owners. The problem, for now, is that there is no patronage for indigenous dry docking companies.
Q: The Cabotage law was enacted in 2003 to help indigenous ship owners, seafarers and ship building process in Nigeria. What is your estimation of the Cabotage scheme?
Ans: Cabotage is an area of interest to me because my PhD was on cabotage. For me, cabotage is a complete failure. The law says ships should be built in Nigeria, manned by Nigerians and such ships should be built by Nigerians. Though there were provisions for waivers in the implementation of the cabotage law, I must say that the cabotage policy implementation has not helped indigenous ship owners. Go and ask them if you are in doubt.
Q: Some stakeholders are calling for the disbursement of the cabotage Vessel Finance Fund, CVFF, what is your position?
Ans: This is what the money is meant for so it should be disbursed. The money can acquire ULCC (Ultra Large Crude carrier) or VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier). I think we can buy 3 VLCC vessels owned by the government and their use to lift crude oil. First, it will enable Nigeria to get the insurance and freight carriage (I &F) instead of the cost and freight (C & F) process we engage as a country thereby depriving indigenous ship operators of making gains from the nation’s maritime potential by getting businesses from possibly the NNPC. The crew of the VLCC vessels will carry a minimum of 20 to 40 persons depending on the cabin capacity and if the crew comprise all Nigerians for instance it creates room for employment. That is what the disbursement of the CVFF will help to address because vessels are very expensive and if an individual buys one, there should be government patronage. That was the reason for the Jones act in the United States. Our own cabotage law was equally intended to benefit and protect indigenous ship owners. It is not late to address it The CVFF disbursement will turn Nigeria’s economy around. In Iran, their crude oil is sold on C & 1, not FOB – Free on board.
Q: You are one of the key users of our territorial waters. How safe are our territorial waters and how can we make them safer?
Ans: A time came we went to the Gulf of Guinea conference and everyone was worried. It got to a point that when people sail in the waters they were carrying arms to protect their vessels on the waters. Many reasons account for why the waters are not safe. In the US, they have coast guards. We have the Navy but do we have them enough to police the entire territorial waters? Even if we do, People are hungry in this country as such they are prepared to do anything to make the water not to be safe. If we complement the role of the navy with another security outfit to protect our coastlines it will help us greatly because we are losing so much every day in our territorial waters to pirates and so on. People go to the United Arab Emirates every day yet our children have been home because of strike. We need to address the insecurity problem. Our land is not safe, the water is not safe though the navy and army are doing their best to calm the situation. The Killings in the land and water are getting too much for the giant of Africa
Q: Cadet training is a major issue in Nigeria because Nigeria has no vessel for sea time experience. What does that portend?
Ans: Training is key to any country. The bedrock of development in any country is training. A Chinese boy can develop a toy in hours. In our time the federal government was training people for free, I am a beneficiary because ITF paid part of my school fees. However, that has changed. Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron, for instance, ought to produce majority of the country’s captains and seafarers were neglected for decades. If it was maintained just like the maritime Academy in Egypt, the school would have been competing with other academies abroad. But then where do the cadets do their practical training when Nigeria as a maritime nation has no ship? The maritime academy of Nigeria has no ship for training either but if the CVFF was used to buy vessels for indigenous ship owners and MAN, Oron, an academy recognized by International Maritime Organisation, IMO, would Nigeria be complaining about training vessels? It is indeed a big shame.
Q: In West Africa, only 3 maritime academies are recognized by IMO and Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron is one of them, but other private maritime academies/Universities have been established of late in Nigeria. Aside from NBTE and other approvals, are certificates issued by these academics/Universities recognized outside Nigeria?
Ans: Nigeria maritime institutions work with IMO’s rating. For you to get an international rating, you must have a high training standard that is in compliance with the internationally accepted standards as agreed to by all IMO member nations. As a member nation of the International Maritime Organisation, IMO, member nations are expected to ensure that their training is in compliance with the standard set by IMO. Recognition by IMO is key, but compliance with IMO’s standard is what IMO will use to rate member nations and manpower training, training curriculum, certification, and so on are part of the compliance for standard and rating. In Nigeria, we need to do an open registry. Annual renewal of the flag will make Nigeria popular internationally as a maritime nation. Also, the more flagged vessels we have and possibly with Nigerian crew meaning the crew have Nigeria sea man passports, Nigeria Discharge booklet etc, the more rating Nigeria will get by IMO. For instance, the Library is the highest flag country in Africa because most ships carry the Liberia flag. The more certificate or certifications you get the more job you get in the international sea trade. As for the existence of more private maritime academies, I will speak on my own only. Most of my cadets are on the Liberia flag and that is the advantage they have to be able to work on board vessels anywhere in the world since shipping is an international business.
Q: How many courses are approved for your school-CONARINA MARITIME academy by NBTE?
Ans: We have NBTE’s approval for nine courses.
Q: What are the NIMASA-approved certificate courses, I mean short courses?
Ans: They are in our leaflet but let me say they are:
(iii) Associated in Engine & Deck
Q: How do Cadets of CONARINA maritime Academy get their sea practical experience knowing that Nigeria has no ship?
Ans: We have a small training vessel for practical experience but then we have not started training cadets in nautical science.
Q: Nowadays, most students prefer to go to University to read about nautical science, marine transport, marine engineering and so on why do you think that coming to school at CONARINA maritime academy is a better option?
Ans: We have a workshop for marine engineering. We have a boat.
We have a waterfront/River for moving vessel. What is important is for a ship cadet/ nautical scientist to be able to move a vessel effectively through the River or ocean. Even if you go to a maritime university and you can not move a vessel or ship in the end, what does it amount to? At our maritime academy the focus is practical so that when you graduate from our institution, you should be able to compete with anyone anywhere in the world. At present, we do associate training of maritime Engineers and nautical science (Deck) so the training vessel is of great importance to us.
Q: What is the process of gaining admission to CONARINA maritime academy for the Diploma programme?
Ans: Admission to Conarina Maritime Academy is the same five-credit minimum required by JAMB.
Q: What about other short Courses and discrimination against seafarers with lesser or unrecognised certificates?
Ans: Sometime in the past you find only one black man working with 200 foreigners on a foreign ship. That is beginning to change. What you call unrecognized certificates may be certificates gotten by seamen from possible countries that are not on the list of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA. However, with the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron, Akwa Ibom State, you can do COC and conversion. But one very important thing is that there is a need to let NIMASA accept Nigerians’ conversion of their certificates to foreign and equally allow foreigners to convert their certificates to their equivalent in Nigeria. For instance, I have Liberian class 1, Cyprus class 1, or Nigeria class 3. At what point can you say that the various classes of certificates are equal to the ones issued by other maritime institutions? There is so much discrimination against some countries that are not on NIMASA approved list.
Q: With the recent announcement by the Education Minister that HND will be scrapped from polytechnic programmes, can someone who graduates from CONARINA maritime academy gain admission to a university to do a higher degree program?
Ans: Certainly anyone who graduates from Conarina maritime academy and wishes to go to the university to continue with his or her career can get admission to a university.
Q: With the new educational policy do you think that MAN, Oron should be made a maritime university?
Ans: In the first instance, the Nigeria Maritime University Okerekoko is already a university. I know that Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron is also being planned to be a university going by the presentation made to the national assembly which has passed second reading. With the new policy of the government, it is either government merge Okerekoko with MAN, Oron or merged MAN Oron with Maritime University of Nigeria, Okerekoko.
Q: Considering the fact that IMO gives preferences to practical training of seafarers and following conventions signed by maritime member countries, will it be wise for IMO member countries to turn the over 500 maritime academies spread across the globe into Universities?
Ans: If we at look at IMO treaty and use it to develop teaching manuals for Maritime Academy of Nigeria,Oron in line with the training standard for seafarers internationally, it will be wise to adhere to IMO’s regulations. Training of seafarers in maritime academies is practically oriented while training in maritime universities is about research and theory. But if they want to convert maritime academies to universities it should be maritime Technology based University.
Q: What gives you joy and what advice do you have for up coming cadets or young persons who want to take up the sea trade?
Ans: The sea trade is very interesting and full of exploits. It has vast opportunities. I encourage young people ready to take up the sea trade to be dedicated, committed and steadfast. It is what I have done all my life and seeing people grow gives me joy. Indeed, building human capacity and ensuring that ships are safe to sail in the waters globally gives me joy. Staying with my people and contributing to nation-building is my greatest passion.
Q: NPA is considering a 30% rebate to attract cargoes to eastern ports. Will this change the narrative if not what is the way out?
Ans: 30 per cent rebate for Eastern bound cargo is good but it is still not the solution. We need an encouraging business environment for importers and Shippers to change the narrative.
Q: As a global logistics veteran and a fellow member of CILT (chartered institute of Logistics and Transport), what do you think we need to do to correct Nigeria’s poor logistics performance index, LPI taking into consideration changing service environment, technological innovations and planning by countries and operators in the logistics chain?
Ans: What we need to do is to improve our road network and transport system. Try to imagine how long it takes to get to Ikeja airport from Apapa ports and compare it to other countries in the world. That is just one singular example of how to correct our poor logistics index.
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