By Oritsematosan EDODO-Emore

oil exploration and exploitation generates a plethora of maritime activities, - seismic vessels searching for oil, construction vessels laying umbilicals underneath the sea bed, anchor handling vessels, supply boats ferrying people to and fro oil platforms, Heavy Lift Vessels bringing in equipment from Europe to Nigeria, etc.

One of the pillars of the Cabotage Act is that the crew who man the vessels used in Nigerian Coastal Waters should be Nigerians. Section 3 of the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage Act) 2003, prohibits vessels which are not manned by Nigerian Citizens from operating in Nigerian Coastal Waters.

Where a vessel is not wholly manned by Nigerians, its employers must apply for a waiver of the requirement that Nigerians must man it. This waiver is sought and obtained at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). The waiver costs money. The cost depends on the category of personnel seeking to be waived. A master attracts a fee of N50, 000.00 (Fifty Thousand Naira only) a Chief Engineer N30, 000.00 (Thirty Thousand Naira only) - whereas cooks, mess men, wipers, oilers and able bodied seamen attract N100, 000.00 (One Hundred Thousand Naira only) each.

The rationale behind the prohibition of vessels not manned by Nigerias from plying Nigerias Coastal Waters is to stimulate development of local manning capacity. the prohibition is not total because Nigeria does not yet have the capacity to man all the vessels plying its coastal waters. The provision of waivers itself is a testimony to a lack of capacity.

In operating its cabotage regime, Nigeria is faced with the dilemma of whether or not to operate a strict cabotage regime - that means, Nigerians must man all the vessels plying its coastal waters and there would be no waivers. Nigeria operates a liberal cabotage regime, both in law and in practice.

The current rate of unemployment among Nigerian seamen has brought tremendous pressure on the cabotage regime.

On the one hand is the need to see that Nigerian seafarers are gainfully employed and on the other hand is the need to see that the work of Nigerian trading partners are not interrupted. It is a situation that requires a good balancing act.

One of the requirements of processing a manning waiver is a certification from the Maritime Labour Department of nIMASA that there is no qualified or available Nigerian Officer or crew for the position for which waiver is sought. In practice, there are usually many available Nigerian crews. Whether they are qualified for the positions for which waiver is sought is another matter all together.

Faced with the question whether or not NIMASA should grant waiver for a cook, one has heard the argument “a cook is a cook” so why can’t a Nigerian cook be employed in a vessel that has come from Europe to work in Nigerias Coastal Waters? In my practice, I have seen where a foreign ship has been asked to take on a master, a Chief engineer and a chief officer, for the period that waiver was being sought.

With due respect the question is not whether a cook is a cook, or whether an oiler is a oiler but whether foreign ships working in Nigeria’s Coastal Waters can be compelled to take on local Seafarers, either in addition or as alternatives to the crew that they have already. Can we force this position? I think not – at least not at this point in time, for reasons which are many.

One of such reason is the specialized nature of some of the vessels which are employed in the oil and gas industry.

Some of the vessels employed are not ordinary commercial vessels, but are specialized Construction as well as Heavy Lift Vessels equipped with their own heavy lift equipment to load and discharge all kinds of heavy lift cargoes. Heavy Lift Vessels are really like mini ports, equipped with cranes, shackles and other types of heavy equipments one would find in a port.

Due to the danger involved in heavy lift operations, the vessels demand their own specialized crew, who has been working with them between three to ten years.

Any change in the crew posses safety challenges, in the nature of risk of loss of vessel, loss lives and environmental pollution.

Another reason is the safety requirements of some of the vessels. Due to the nature of the risks involved in heavy lift and construction operations, persons who came aboard the vessels must satisfy the minimum safety prerequisites namely: Training on STW 95, Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET), Basic Survival Training, Vessel induction and Security Clearance.

Before boarding the vessels all personnel would have obtained both their BOSIET [Basic Offshore Survival, Induction Escape Training] and HUET certificates. These are mandatory certificates authorizing them to go offshore and follow safety procedures on board a vessel and helicopter. These are safety requirements which cannot be compromised because crew transfers and medical evacuation could be carried out by helicopter. The trainings giving rise to these certificates ensure that in the event of a helicopter incident, there would be good chances of survival.

Additionally, the limited accommodation on the vessels is another hindrance to taking on additional local seafarers. the vessels which service the oil and gas industry, come here for pre - determined periods, with dedicated crew to do the work for which the vessels are employed. Consequently, all personnel on board the vessels have specific skills necessary for dedicated tasks.

Many of the operations are for short periods of say 2 to 3 months where the crew and project team live on board the vessels for mobilization at the port and offshore. Because of the limited space on board the ships, at the point of departure of the vessels for Nigeria, the rooms are already apportioned to personnel working on the project for which the vessels are employed. More often than not rooms are actually shared by 2 people per shift.

There is often no available room that can be used as a guest room. As accommodation on board the vessels are limited to the personnel attached to the project, the number of persons in the vessels would not be exceeded for safety reasons.

Due to the nature of heavy lift operations, very high safety standard is required on board the vessels. This therefore limits and restricts the access to skilled personnel.

The reality on ground is that many of the local seafarers at this point in time do not yet have the training and qualifications necessary to work in some of the more specialized vessels – operating in our Coastal Waters. Additionally some of the vessels used in the oil industry are supplied with the crew in tact. Some teams have been together for up to ten years – with each crew member knowing what to do with - the precision that comes from routine familiarization. The employers or charterers of the vessels have no power to employ additional crew. The crew on board the vessels would usually be on contracts spanning many years. This is particularly true of heavy lift and construction vessels.

If this is the situation, then how do we get our seamen on board vessels which service the oil and gas industry in Nigeria and elsewhere? the first thing to do is to enhance the training curriculum at the premier maritime institution in the country - The maritime Academy Oron, so that its products can easily be absorbed outside the country. next is for the Federal Government to provide a training vessel where cadets can actually have their sea training. Then there should be bilateral agreements between Nigeria or Nigerian institutions e.g. NIMASA with established owners of specialized vessels such as Combi Lift of Netherlands SAL SCHIFFAHRTSKONTOR ALTES LAND GMBH CO., Kg of Germany enabling Nigerians to undergo training in some of these vessels. Additionally institutions such as the maritime academy Oron should aid its graduands in seeking employment with shipowners or crewing companies abroad.

Finally, partnering with local companies which seek waiver for their vessels to engage cadets on the vessels for the periods such vessels would be in Nigeria.

In order to do this, it must be emphasized that the cadets seeking ship experience do not have the basic requirements enabling them to board the specialized vessels and go to offshore sites.

However the companies could assist the training of cadets in situ on their Vessels during the mobilization in port. They would receive the cadets on a daily basis on the vessels and attach a personnel to them. The cadets would see, how mobilization operations work, witness the immediate port calls, and see the nature of activities carried out on the vessels. At the end of the mobilization the companies could issue certificates to cadets who participate in its training.

As bed space is limited, and for safety reasons mentioned above, the cadets may not sleep in the vessels because some of the vessels are not equipped for more than the personnel already appointed.

For reasons of space constraint and due to safety issues mentioned above, some of the vessels may not be able to take a large number of cadets at any given visit.

From the foregoing, it is clear that it is an enduring partnership between Nigeria and her trading partners that will deliver the dividends of nigerias cabotage legislation as regards the building of local capacity in the maritime sector serving the oil and gas industry.


Oritsematosan EDODO - EMORE

Oritsematosan Edodo, Thorpe Associates


Ikorodu Road,

Obanikoro – Lagos.


Tel: 08033052747, 08082789913

This article appeared at Pg 13-15 of July 2009 edition of NIGERIA OIL GAS MONTHLY

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