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By NBF News
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Director General of the National Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Mr Temisan Omatseye, has said that the agency would soon commence the disbursement of Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) to aid indigenous ship owners to acquire vessels.

According to him, the money, which is a growing fund, has hit the tune of $75 million and is ready for disbursement. In an interview with the Daily Sun recently, the NIMASA DG said 'so far, when we agreed with the board last time, we had $75 million there. But you know that the way the money will be shared is that we are giving 50 percent, then the banks 35 per cent, and the beneficiaries will make their own contributions. So, in real terms the money is actually $150 million.

He said the money is growing adding, 'when we came in here we met about $7-$8 million.' Already the agency has appointed four banks to handle the disbursement of the funds. CVFF replaced the now ill fated Ship Acquisition and Ship Building Fund (SASBF), which were bedevilled by corruption as the funds were wrongly disbursed to beneficiaries. Over $21 million still unpaid by beneficiaries, some of which were said to be briefcase-shipping companies.

CVFF followed the implementation of the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act 2003, which was aimed at capacity improvement for Nigerian operators in the shipping sector. Under the Cabotage Act, trading along the coastal waters is restricted to Nigerians. Foreigners are only to participate when there is no Nigerian who has capacity for such jobs and waiver sought and approved by the transport minister.

But over the years, foreigners have continued to dominate Nigeria's coastal trade with the support of some government functionaries who allegedly benefit from the illegality in the guise of applying waiver even without determining whether Nigerians have the capacity or not.

Nigerian operators have consistently grumbled and cried out over their inability to get jobs, which makes them unable to maintain or buy new ships. Even Nigeria's crude oil lifting have become the exclusive preserve of the foreign companies. It is believed that with the disbursement of the funds, Nigerian ship owners will begin to assert themselves in this area.