Interview: A transformed Ship Registry means the game-changer for Nigeria’s shipping sub-sector, says Shipowner, Greg Ogbeifun

Engr. Greg Ogbeifun, Chairman/CEO Starzs Group

Shipping Industrialist and Chairman of Starzs Group, Greg Ogbeifun, sees an entirely new beginning with new landmarks as Nigeria proposes a revitalisation of her Ship Registry.
A revitalised Nigerian Ship Registry will mean broader shipping operations furthering indigenous participation in global commercial shipping, improved technical training for ship surveyors, more jobs, investments and importantly too, provide available platforms for sea-time training for Nigerian cadets and other seafarers, as the Nigerian Registry will determine the manning on the ships flying its Flag. But, the shipping mogul advocates stronger industry collaborations, particularly between the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Company to begin with inherent opportunities. The NLNG would be encouraged to support the revitalised Nigerian Ship Register by registering some of its vessels with this Register, so they can fly the Nigerian flag.  Ogbeifun is also confident that the Nigerian Ship Registry can take-off in its renewed form establishing globally-desired integrity by engaging non-exclusive surveyors in different parts of the world where Nigerian -flagged ships are likely to trade. He calls it “global approach to doing global business,” and he believes that the NIMASA Management would have etched a lifelong mark of revolutionising shipping in line with global trade demands.

Ogbeifun’s insights are take-aways for industry discourse.        

What in your views would the revitalisation of the Nigerian Ship Registry mean for the shipping sub-sector?

The importance of a national ship register cannot be over emphasised. The national Ship Register is a register that determines the tonnage of the maritime industry of that country. The ships that have to be registered in a national register don’t necessarily have to be ships owned by that country or citizens of that country. That is why you find that Greek ship owners can register their ships in Liberia. For instance, most of our Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) ships are not registered in Nigeria, they are registered in other registries in different parts of the world.
However, there are factors that would determine the Register of a ship, and one of the most important factors has to do with the Flag status of that country. For instance, the flag registry needs to have adequate, well-trained ship surveyors in that country that would meet all inspections and survey requirements by a ship that is registered in that country’s registry.
For example, assuming a company decides to acquire a crude oil tanker that would trade globally, and that company decides to register that ship in the Nigerian Registry, it means that: one, it is the Nigerian Register that determines the manning of that ship.So, you can see automatically that it opens up job opportunities and training opportunities for Nigerians on all ships that are trading globally and are registered in Nigerian Flag.
Secondly, It means that wherever that ship is trading globally, when necessary statutory surveys are due, the Nigerian Register will have to send Nigerian surveyors to where ever that ship is, to carry out the surveys. That means opportunities for more Nigerian surveyors to be identified, developed, will now come, and surveyors who will now be trained for global trading will also emerge. This will increase the level of our maritime skilled personnel.
For vessels to be registered in a national registry, there are statutory tonnage taxes and other levies that have to be paid. So, in terms of revenue generation, there will also be added value, because for the tonnages that are registered in the Nigerian Registry, tonnage taxes and the levies would be paid, which would lead to revenue generation.  

What initial caution should become very important?

Like everything else, they have to strictly implement the recommendations of the committee report. There will be need to understand that there are issues that must be addressed for that flag register to gain confidence of ships trading globally to be able to come in. It is going to be an uphill task. I see initially, a situation where the Nigerian Registry will have to go into some strategic alliances with some international classification societies whereby they will carry out some of the relevant surveys on behalf of the Nigerian Registry. I remember in my younger days in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I was a non-exclusive surveyor for Germanischer Lloyd, a German Register. I was in charge of surveying on their behalf, of every ship that came into the country that were registered in the German Register. I was also a non-exclusive surveyor for Bureau Veritas, which is the French Registry, and an acting surveyor for Lloyd’s Register of London, whereby I was accredited to carry out surveys and inspections of ships in those flags calling at Nigerian ports.  What I am trying to say is, it is international practice, even though you try to class your ship with the Nigerian Register, Nigerian Flag or Registry can go into appointing non-exclusive surveyors in different countries to represent their interest as far ship surveys are concerned.  There would be need to strategically articulate the implementation scheme in such a way that confidence can be built. That way, if a ship that is registered in the Nigerian Registry sails to a place like Japan, and Nigeria has a non-exclusive surveyor in Japan, who may be a Japanese, whenever that ship goes there that Japanese can go on board and carry out relevant inspections and surveys on behalf of Nigeria, and this is internationally acceptable. 

How this can encourage foreign investments and financing for the sector

 The biggest thing is that the ships that are registered in the Nigerian Flag will probably have preference for Nigerian cargo over and above non-Nigerian flagged registered ships. For example, should a company a decide to acquire a crude oil tanker for international trade, and that tanker is registered in the Nigerian Flag, that means Nigerians should be able to sail on that ship, and train on that ship. It becomes easy for that shipowner to go to a Nigerian cargo owner, whether it is private or public to say “look, I have a Nigerian Ship and there is a Nigerian cargo here, my price is competitive, can you give me the opportunity to have the business and carry the cargo?” Chances are that they will get the business. So, for an investor knowing that there is already a market, that is, cargo, and he acquires a vessel that is registered in the Nigerian Flag, that will give him an opportunity to have that market, then it becomes an incentive for them to invest. 
The gains for seafarers

This will be the biggest gain for solving the sea-time problem for Nigerian seafarers generally, not only the cadets. It will immediately lead to the emergence of the type of ships that are needed for global trade, which is why NIMASA is always going out to say they are looking for sea-time opportunities on global trading ships for their cadets. We can therefore see a permanent solution to problem. Can you imagine a situation where a global trading ship is registered in Nigerian Flag, which means Nigeria will determine the manning requirements for that ship, and before anybody can sail on that ship it has to be approved by the Nigerian Flag Registry? Do you think it will be easy for such a ship flagged on the Nigerian Register to allow another national to come and sail on her? Nigerians would be considered first. So, whenever NIMASA say they want to seek sea-time for the Nigerian cadets on foreign registered ships, it must be an uphill tasks, and when they do have the opportunity, they pay a lot for it. It has been said severally that the issue of shortage of seafarers is a global problem. If that is a global problem, that means every country will seize every opportunity they have to train their own seafarers on their ships.  Why will they want to train other countries’ citizens? This is why I say we should look inwards and develop in-country platforms and opportunities to meet our needs rather than looking outward.
If for instance the NLNG decides to register some of their ships on the Nigerian Register, automatically, manning of those ships will have to be by Nigerian seafarers, which automatically creates jobs for Nigerians. For any non-Nigerians to sail on those ships, approval and accreditation will be sought from the Nigerian Register. We should begin to do things this way, instead of playing second-fiddle all the time. Like I always argue, the low-hanging fruits to test the new Register will be our own NLNG. There is therefore need for NIMASA and NLNG to come together to deliberate on how this can be made to happen.

While the industry anticipates rewarding results from the proposed revitalisation  of the Nigerian Ship Registry, Greg Ogbeifun would like NIMASA to stay committed to the immediate implementation of the recommendations from the committee that was set up to review the operations of the Ship Registry for performance under the purview of NIMASA.