By Adegboyega Oni
The Federal Government of Nigeria has been advised to be circumspect in rushing into the demolition of the Secure Anchorage Area (SAA) being canvassed by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) as such action may come with heavy consequential effects on the nation’s economy, particularly the maritime industry.
The National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) gave the advice in its memorandum to the Joint Senate Committee on Navy, Marine Transport and Finance investigation the dispute between the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and Ocean Marine Solutions Limited on the SAA.
The Joint Senate Committee had scheduled to meet concerned stakeholders on the SAA dispute last week but was shifted till this week Tuesday December 3 and Wednesday December 4, 2019.
The NPA, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Nigerian Navy and OMSL will appear before the committee on Tuesday while the Marine Police, Federal Ministry of Transportation, NAGAFF, Ship Owners Association of Nigeria and Nigerian Shippers’ Council will take their turn on Wednesday.
Commending the SAA platform for its immense contributions to the industry, NAGAFF noted that dismantling of the SAA by the government as being called for by the NPA could send a bad signal to the multi-national shipping companies, pose threats to the benefits Nigeria stands to gain from AfCFTA and further compound the status of the country as high risk area as Lagos waters will be once again exposed to unchecked piracy attacks and other criminalities at sea.
The association added that the dissolution of the SAA would also dampen the morale of the Nigerian Navy, return the Nigerian maritime domain to the old days of arbitrary high freight charges, low patronage of Nigerian ports, increase the cost of doing business and possibly render our ports unattractive to shippers and lead to cargo diversions to neighboring ports.
According to NAGAFF, the idea of creating the SAA platform was a good one, borne out of genuine intention and patriotism, maintaining that ‘’the drafting in of the private-sector initiative, OMSL, to assist the government in building our law enforcement capacities aimed at deterring the criminals in our waters deserves commendation. Efforts must be made to sustain the enormous benefits inherent in the creation of the SAA.
‘’In our opinion, we have not seen any cogent reason that would warrant the dismantling of the facility. Rather, more platforms should be created to cover the remaining areas around the Fairway Bouy for safe anchoring of vessels.
‘’The interest of the nation is far more important than the interest of a single agency of the Government (NPA). The importance of adding our voice to clarify the facts at this point as critical stakeholders and major users of shipping services is to avoid a situation where the government may be misled into taking hasty decisions that might worsen the state of our maritime domain.’’
The association noted that the SAA has helped to increase the presence of the Navy at the sea to deter pirates and other criminals at sea, contribute to the improvements in the rating of Nigerian waters by the IMB, reduce the waiting time of vessels, freight cost and other associated charges at the Lagos seaports and create employment for Nigerians, among other benefits.
Against the claim by the NPA that the SAA portends danger and risk to the security, NAGAFF noted that the claim is baseless and untrue. ‘’ SAA is operated by the same Navy that is saddled with the responsibilities of protecting our waters and does not portend any risk to the security of the Nigerian state.
‘’The use of the SAA is optional. It does not cost the government anything but rather helps to reduce government expenditure in providing security on our waters,’’ the association said.
NAGAFF however called on the federal government take advantage of the use of private-sector involvement to support the Nigerian Navy in combating criminal activities at the nation’s maritime domain and carry out a careful and thorough investigation to dismiss any political agenda and personal motive in this matter would go a long way in guiding every decision to be reached in this inquiry.
‘’The SAA facility should be supported to compliment the general maritime security provided by the government. The idea of dismantling the Safe Anchorage Area (SAA) for any reason needs to be jettisoned at the moment; its operation has gone a long way in re-assuring the international community of the predictability of our local environment.
“As an aftermath of this sticky situation, we advise that the Senate Committee on Nigeria Navy in consultation with other relevant Senate Committees on maritime matters should look into the existing overlap of functions by the government agencies in the industry, with the view to restricting each to its mandate to avoid a re-occurrence of the current issue on SAA,” said NAGAFF calling for the creation of more platforms to cover the entire anchorage areas.