Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, has said that the $195 million Deep Blue project recently launched by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to tackle piracy and other maritime crimes on the nation’s waterways and the Gulf of Guinea is ‘not working’.
This is even as the Minister disclosed that President Muhammadu Buhari has withdrawn approval for the disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) to indigenous shipowners.
Amaechi’s declaration is coming despite reports of a drop in piracy attacks on Nigerian waters, which the Director General of NIMASA, Bashir Jamoh, attributed to the gains of the deep blue project.
Since the launch of the project also called the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure by President Muhammadu Buhari in June, the NIMASA DG has been vigorously campaigning for the removal of war risk insurance premium placed on Nigeria- bound cargoes as a result of insecurity by the international shipping community.
But speaking at the flag off of the National Wreck Removal exercise in Lagos on Friday Amaechi said, while there may have been a reduction in piracy incidents, illegal oil bunkering, which the deep blue project also seeks to address has continued unabated on Nigerian waters with top Nigerians profiting from the illegal business.
According to him, Nigeria’s maritime sector is riddled with so many problems and lack of unity among the industry stakeholders, hence his decision to shift attention from the sector to the rail sector.
He said, “Basically, our maritime sector has a lot of problems. There are people who make money from illegalities in the maritime sector, they will never allow you to succeed. I am the first minister that has fought their battle without being removed. It is one sector that if you put your head, they will chop it off. The maritime sector in our budget is not up to N700billion. Lagos to Ibadan is $2billion that is N1trillion. So, should I be bordering my head where they would chop it off or focus on where I can deliver for the people and they will be very happy?
“Again, I sat down with maritime stakeholders and I passed on power to you expecting that you will move forward but when I saw maritime stakeholders were not moving forward, I withdrew.
“Do you think the deep blue project is working? No. It is not. He (NIMASA DG) is right piracy has come down but the bunkering has not come down. I spoke with the Group Managing Director of NNPC and some of these people mobilised and said ‘okay you want your safe water, leave us alone and take your safe water but activities in the oil sector are continuing’, they are making their money.”
Speaking on the withdrawal of the approval for the disbursement of the CVFF fund, Amaechi accused NIMASA and indigenous shipowners of going behind to gang up against him after he fought for two years to secure approval for the disbursement of the fund. This, he said, led to the withdrawal of the approval for disbursement by the President.
He said, “Even though the DG of NIMASA was denying that NIMASA never participated, they went around and that approval was withdrawn. Then they said I should come and fight again. Should I fight? The answer is no. I fought for over two years and they gave us approval, and when it was time to disburse, they started to look for trouble. One day I woke up, I saw a directive from the President withdrawing the approval, Should I fight again? No, I am not fighting again.”
Amaechi, who criticised the shipping operators for lack of unity said many of them who claim to be shipowers do not own ships.
He blamed the indigenous ship operators for the withdrawal of the Singaporean firm, Pacific International Limited (PIL) from the Joint Venture it entered with the Nigerian government to establish a national shipping line after they failed to present their own 60 percent equity in the national carrier.
“How many of you in the maritime sector are united? So, when you meet men who are fighting among themselves, you move on to something more serious. It is only in the Nigerian maritime sector that you have shipowners that don’t own ships. So, if I am dealing with shipowners that don’t own ships, what will I do? I will go to the railway.
“When I came into government, the first place I focused my attention on was on maritime. We went to Singapore to get a foreign investor who will bring 40 percent for the acquisition of a national shipping line and Nigeria to bring 60 percent. The foreign investor brought their 40 percent, till today, Nigeria is still arranging its 60 percent. They couldn’t even raise the 60 percent.
“So, the right thing to do if I am to continue as Minister is to go and amend the national shipping law and say the Nigerian shipping line can belong to anybody on earth who will have the capacity to put in vessels and fly the Nigeria flag.
Amaechi also spoke on why he ensured the cancellation of the Secure Anchorage Area contract being managed by Ocean Marine Solutions Limited (OMSL).
He said, “When the maritime stakeholders petitioned against me to the President over maritime security, a company in the maritime sector was collecting $2,500 in the first day in their so-called anchorage area, then the second day, they charge $1,500 multiplied by 30 days, in a year, they were making 100million dollars. In 2020, they made $7million and when I said this has to stop, we started a fight. Maritime stakeholders, government officials join in to gang up against me. So why do you want me to stay in that kind of place? One of the petitions they wrote was that I was the owner of the contract of the deep blue project and I ask how much is the so-called deep blue security contract? It is $195million. Lagos to Ibadan is $2billion dollars, where should I collect money? $195million or $2billion?
“The reason you see me fighting the battle to cancel the OMSL MoU because it is not a contract is because the $2,500 that he is collecting and putting in his pocket will be paid by ordinary Nigerians because the money is added to the cost of goods and transportation. Why should the ordinary Nigerians be paying one man when I am the Minister of Transport? It is either I remove him or when my tenure finishes, they can continue if they want to but within the period I am in government, I should protect the ordinary citizens of Nigeria.”