The Torremolinos Declaration: Nigeria’s quest for operational safety, protection of her ocean resources against IUU fishing


Mrs Margaret Orakwusi, and Engr. Emmanuel Ilori
Nigeria’s signing of the Torremolinos Declaration in Spain recently was an expression of her determination to support the provisions seeking safety standards for fishing vessels and fishing operations as demanded by the International Maritime Organisation.  
Nigeria’s representatives to the IMO Ministerial Conference on fishing safety, including Marine Engineer, Emmanuel Ilori, said Nigeria signed to the declaration with a greater interest to see improvement in fishing vessels, considering acceptable safety standards as well as to ensure observation of all safety requirement concerning the fishermen and the entire crew of fishing trawlers in Nigeria.

It is worthy of note that the International Labour Organisation said recently that an estimated 24,000 people die aboard fishing vessels for various reasons, a figure it said was 10 times more than the number of workers who died on merchant vessels.

According to Ilori: “You will realise that in an environment where those who engage in fishing want to maximize profit, they will cut down on maintenance, and on crew safety on fishing vessels. It is not impossible. Not all of them do that, but some. Then, who suffers the most? They are those who work in the fishing vessels. And they work in very hazardous environment. Fishing is very dangerous in the ocean, more dangerous than the merchant marine.”

He noted that with the global community concern about the standards of fishing vessels, their construction and how they are operated, Nigeria was fully in support, even as she would be going for the forth-coming IMO Council Election in December.

Issues of Note
Speaking on the Torremolinos declaration signing by Nigeria, the Chairperson Shipowners Forum, Nigeria and a former president of the Nigerian Trawler Owners Association(NITOA), Mrs. Margaret Orakwusi, said operators in the fishing sub –sector were not engaged for their likely input before the team went for the IMO Ministerial Conference in Spain.
She said: “I think there is need, not just for this that has been signed, because we don’t even know the process or procedure, whether it is finalised, whether they are going to get it to the House to legislate, we don’t know. I think what should happen, is to begin to engage people, whatever you believe we are signing up to, we have laws in the country, if those things are already covered.
“We also have agencies, and I will assure you they are already there. They need to consult, inform people and work with us. It makes implementation a lot easy. We can also discuss, because it is going to add to our cost of production, even if we are not paying any official rate. I believe that whoever that championed this, should have involved the stakeholders.”
On his part, however, Ilori said: “The Torremolinos Declaration is just an intent by the member states that attended to say we will continue to work to ensure that either some of them ratify the convention or they sign up to the convention. That was just about it, small nations signing up to improve fishing vessel safety and stand up against illegal fishing. We have not really signed up to the agreement yet.”

Protecting Fishing Operators’ Interest
Like Orakwusi mentioned, fishing operations are regulated by the Nigerian Navy, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the Department of Fisheries, and the Ministry of Agriculture. Also, depending on where they are exporting their products, operators are regulated by the EU laws, and America.
A major concern for the operators is the fact that there are overlapping functions by the various regulatory government agencies, putting a lot of pressure on the cost of doing business as well. In that regard, Orakwusi wants the agencies concerned to have proper engagement, in order to identify the overlapping functions, which she thinks would be a mark of strength when properly harnessed.
But speaking in the regard of protecting the interest of operators as well, Ilori said the bottom-line of everything would be to ensure that operators have an improved and protected environment to work. He said: “Fishing vessels are not part of SOLAS as it is presently. So, IMO decided that they need to start to do something about it. This is to ensure that fishing vessel safety is enhanced in order to save lives and combat illegal fishing. 
He noted that “at the present time, there are too many agencies seeking to control what is not really a controlled environment. That is why we are now asking the government that to check the duplicity of the agents going there trying to control the environment, and in reality, it is not. Operators must have ease in doing their business legally.”

Combating IUU Fishing
Orakwusi has been in the forefront of the campaign against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, asking very pertinent questions on why it has remained difficult to check the trend of what is described as ‘irresponsible’ manner of fishing by foreigners on Nigerian waters. In the same vein, Engr. Ilori supports and says Nigeria must at this time be able to protect her territorial waters and say no foreign vessels perpetrating IUU fishing in the nation’s waters.
Ilori explained that since the Nigerian Flag is a closed Registry, which means it is exclusive to only Nigerians, foreign vessels should not come to fish in Nigeria’s waters? He noticed that sad as it was that such foreign vessels still had their way fishing illegally in Nigeria, they did so using sub-standard nets or too fine nets, and just come to scrape the sea from the bottom.
“Where then is the preservation or the sustainability of the ocean resources? Whereas, if we control it properly, we will not only be able to feed ourselves, but still have something left for the future generation. There is need to control the ocean resources, particularly our fish stocks. That is why the regulation is coming to be,” Ilori said. 
In his view, “it is in our interest that we improve fishing vessel safety and fishing in our country, to control that environment, because there are many Nigerians who take to our shores to try to make a living out of commercial fishing. But there is no level playing field, because all these foreigners still come to our water to fish, to the detriment of Nigerians who have invested heavily in fishing. So, Nigeria needs to control that environment.”

A discouraging observation as well is that some of the foreign vessels that engage in IUU fishing take the fish illegally from Nigeria and sell somewhere else and probably export back to Nigeria. Ilori calls such act “serious round tripping, which is most unfair to us.” For Orakwusi, if the fight against IUU fishing is a tough one out at sea, then there should be meaningful cooperation from the banks, where the monies are transferred from one point to another. She also thinks it would make meaning for the markets to ask questions on where the fishes come from.  

Considering the need for cooperation and collaboration among regulatory agencies, to ensure safety standards in fishing operations and checking of IUU fishing, Ilori’s suggestion is that: “The Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Fisheries need to work together as it happens at the international level, where the International Maritime Organisation(IMO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) come together to drive the initiative. The Ministry of Transport on one hand has to control the standards of the fishing vessels, safety of the fishermen, while the Ministry of Fisheries will control the fishing process itself, and the standard of fishing nets and all those. It will be better for us, so that those who should not be there would not be there creating problems for our trawler community. That is the key issue.”