Interview: Critical factors that can render a ship unsafe – Head of Safety Dept. NIMASA
A yearly review and knowledge improvement through workshops organised by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), is certainly helping to build capacity for marine surveyors. And like the Director of Safety at NIMASA, Engr. Olu Aladenusi shared, the essence of surveying vessels is to ascertain their fitness to continue to serve the purpose for which they were designed. However, vessels, even when in their best shapes, cannot work exclusive of the human element; and people engaged on board a ship must be knowledgeable, with professional certification to prove their competency for whatever job they are engaged for.
But, here lies concerns as Aladenusi pointed out that: “The major challenge that shipowners have is funds in running the companies. Again, because they cannot pay well, they don’t do due diligence to check back with us on certificates. A lot of the people on board work with fake certificates, and it is when we come for inspections that we discover that they are fake. The shipowners know this, but they keep such workers because they pay them what they can afford to pay. When you put someone who is not properly certificated on a ship, it renders the vessel unsafe. It is not only when the engines are not working.”
Aladenusi also speaks on the challenges shipowners face to sustain their operations, and other issues with regards to ensuring safety in navigation.
Kindly share with us about the importance of surveying to navigational safety
You survey a vessel to establish her fitness, to continue to do the business she was designed for. So, periodically we go to these ships, according to the dictates and regulations of the IMO, to carry out our inspections to ensure that the vessels are fit to continue to serve as designed, because of the sensitivity of the vessel in terms of environment and the crew they are carrying.
What has been the greatest challenge in carrying out this responsibility?
Without prejudice against anyone, the main challenge is this, some vessels are owned by foreigners, and they don’t come to our waters directly, they go offshore to operate. And when they go offshore to operate, we have no access to them when they work in the oilfields.
But as I speak now, we have a letter from DPR, to collaborate with them, to always make such lists available to us, and we contact the agents/owners and they give us access to them. And when there is any accident, NIMASA is mentioned. But these vessels come directly from abroad, brought by the IOCs to come and work on their fields; we don’t have record of those vessels. At the same time, operating a vessel is capital intensive. Like you have in the airline operations, some of the spare parts are duty-free, but such incentives are not given to shipowners in Nigeria. So if they can enact a law that can take off the duties, it would mean a lot of relief, because the duties alone to bring spare parts are massive, unlike the airlines where they don’t pay duties on spare parts. It would be truly encouraging if the government can come to this area and assist the shipowners, so that you don’t continue to manage equipment when they are bad and you have to keep making repairs, when there should be new ones on board. They have the money, but when you add the Customs duties and all, they find it difficult to maintain their ships as required.
What is the synergy like between the Safety Department and the Ship Registry?
We are collaborating and we are working for the same goal; safety in navigation and equipment.
NIMASA came on board in 1987, unlike the DPR which has been there for very long. In every safety administration, our obligations are statutory according to IMO regulations, and that is what we do. But for DPR, they have their responsibilities as the office in charge of supervising oil production. So, you can see the demarcation. For them to say they are doing our job, it means creating a vacuum, because you will do a job that you know how to do best.
Then, the shipowners would like to go to the weaker partner, and in this case, it is the DPR, because they don’t have the knowledge that we have in shipping. We are the statutory body; all the IMO laws, guidelines domestication and ratification of the laws are done by us. You cannot practice the law if you don’t know elements of the law. For this reason, we went to the National Assembly and put before them the challenges we are going through. They are now trying to harmonize all our functions; where ever you have over-lapping function we try to address them. And we are having a meeting with the DPR to address the challenge. Of course, it is when there is synergy between the two Agencies that we can be able to police the environment very well.
In every safety administration, you have the Register of Ships as part of the Safety department. But in case of Nigeria, the Register of Ships is an office outside the Safety department. Our obligation as Safety department is; to inspect the ship, give the condition of the ship, and recommend to the Register of Ship that a ship can or cannot be registered. The document would leave our office and go to the Ship Registry to start another process there, where they have their own checklist and guidelines and they continue the process there.
Now we have developed an SOP that can make our jobs seamless; we have five persons from each of the departments and we come together to do the work and that SOP has been approved by the DG.
What are the challenges you face with shipowners when it comes to complying with standards?
The major challenge they have is funds in running the companies. Again, because they cannot pay well, they don’t do due diligence to check back with us on certificates. A lot of the people on board, it is when we come for inspections that we discover that they are fake. The shipowners know this, but they keep such workers because they pay them what they can afford to pay. And when you put someone who is not properly certificated on a ship, it renders the vessel unsafe. It is not only when the engines are not working.
What are the takeaways from this workshop?
What we do annually when we do this, is to let the non-exclusive surveyors (very senior marine engineers who have experience; they were on national line vessels) to see how they can transfer knowledge to the younger ones, especially to the exclusive ones who are staff of NIMASA. They share the experience they have. We also share our experiences since we have funding to be able to attend new courses.
Of course, the key takeaway for each of us is the knowledge from experiences shared.