AS the 132 vessels belonging to the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Company (NLNG) are said to be due for dry docking, stakeholders have started asking for a measure of political will that would enable Nigeria to establish high capacity ship-repair yards. They said the move would help in reducing periodic capital flight from Nigeria.

The NLNG vessels attracted an expenditure profile of 42 million euros (N8.4 billion) in foreign shipyard in 2002. But stakeholders said the nation could have conserved the foreign exchange if there had been enough political will to encourage the development of shipyards in the country.

The Managing Director of Starzs Shipyard Ltd, Mr. Greg Ogbeifun, who spoke over the weekend at the Maritime Round Table (MAROUT) organised by the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping, said the same NLNG vessels were now due for dry docking and wondered where they would undergo the turn around repairs this time.

“Nigeria spent €49 million in 2002 to dry dock NLNG vessels outside Nigeria. If that amount is invested in Nigeria, there will be job creation. Cabotage was in the offing then and we protested to the Presidency, they did not listen. This foreign exchange could have been conserved to develop the shipyard industry in Nigeria,” he said.

Ogbeifun said about 2,165 vessels could be found operating within the country's water even when there are no fewer than 14 ship repair yards available in the country. These yards, he said, are constrained by one problem or the other, adding that their problems ranges from obsolete facilities to poor maintenance and lack of adequate manpower training.

“Most of the available shipyards in Nigeria are constrained by one problem or the other, ranging from obsolete facilities to poor maintenance and lack of adequate training. The result of this is that about 80 per cent of vessels operating in Nigeria waters has to go out of Nigeria to carry out their docking repair,” he lamented.

Continuing, he said: “Nigeria has the major number of off-shore vessels operating in the region but Nigerian yards have as yet low credibility in the industry owing to very poor performance resulting from unresolved issues such as power supply etc and by default, operators are using foreign shipyards.”

The Managing Director of Starzs Shipyard of Port Harcourt said a shipyard could offer job opportunities to numerous engineers, artisans, and craftsman, electrical engineers, electronic engineer, welders, plumbers, corrosion engineers and artisans, divers, under water welders and spare parts dealers.

He said despite the opportunities available in the shipyards, the government continued to neglect the sector for it to face challenges even when the demand for ship repair or dry-docking is very high in the country.

According to him, dry docking facilities are limited in the country as many of the existing shipyards are not functional either as a result of high cost of operation, lack of power supply, lack of spare parts.

He said the high cost of shipyards establishment, low skilled labour and lack of industry standard monitoring would have to be addressed for the existing shipyards to function properly just as government political will to support the industry was essential.

“Patriotic and political will is the key in the development of this industry. A good example is Dry-docks world, Dubai, the largest shipyard in the Middle East. The shipyard was the dream of the late ruler of Dubai, H.H. Sheik Rashid bin Saeed-al Makoktoun. He took advantage of the unique positioning of Dubai as a hub for marine operations and a major trading route and he allocated a portion of the government land for the construction of this shipyard. With the largest ship repair graving docks in the world, numerous floating docks and kilometre Bert, this shipyard over the past 25 years has established itself as a leading player in ship repair, ship building, rig building, FPSO Conversion and fleet operation with facilities in the Middle East and South East Asia, which today provides employment for over 30,000 people of various nationalities and whose operation meet world class standards.”

Ogbeifun who dwelt extensively on shipyard organisation said it was not possible for a single shipyard to provide all the facilities for a ship dry docking as he said.

“There are diverse facilities involved in ship repairs and dry docking. The workshops needed to execute all the services in the industry are diverse too. It is not possible that anyone facility would have all the workshops and machinery it need for its services. Therefore, there is need for synergy amongst the various workshops and facilities. Mutual co-operation is essential in the achievement of set goals and objectives.”

But the Admiral Superintendent of the Nigeria Naval Dockyard (NND), Rear Admiral S.A. Mohammed gave an insight to opportunities for Small, Medium Scale businesses in area of ship repair and dry docking at the Naval Dockyard, saying many companies have entered into joint venture with the dockyard to do ship repair works.

Mohammed said the history of littoral states was about socio-economic activities like shipping, ship-building/repairs and recreation, adding that in Nigeria these activities were further enhanced by about 1,620 km of inland waterways. He acknowledged shipping as the lifeblood of any littoral state because of its contribution to national economy. Nigeria, he said, would not be exceptional with her coastline of about 420km, which contributes to an exclusive Economic Zone of about 84,000 square mile.

Apparently, replying Ogbeifun who had earlier demanded government political will for the development of shipyard sub-sector of the shipping industry at the round Table, the Rear Admiral said “It is in recognition of the vast body of water and its inherent opportunities for shipping, ship building/repair and recreational activities that the Federal Government of Nigeria enacted the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act 2003 to encourage among other things indigenous participation in the shipping industry.”

According to the rear Admiral, Government encouragement of indigenous participation in shipping industry did not start with the 2006 Act, adding that government support effort has been on since independence when 16 recognised shipyards and dockyards including the Nigerian Naval Dockyard (NND) were established to undertake shipbuilding, repairs and general naval engineering consultancy services.

He said the NND has since entered into joint venture partnership with Small and Medium Enterprises through the MoU for ship repair and dry-docking.

“It may appear that some of these JVP have no bearing on ship repair and dry-docking, but that would be an inaccurate perception. All facilities and skills available at the Dockyard are primarily targeted at ship repair and dry-docking, yet these facilities and skills have multiple commercials engineering applications”.

Although, the Naval Chief said some of the MoU with the SME's have not been implemented, the fault has been the limited commercial independence of the NND which hitherto still requires approval from Naval headquarters to enter and operate these joint venture partnership arrangements.

He lamented that the Small and Medium Enterprises in the JVP with NND were yet to exploit the services and facilities at the Naval dockyard. According to him, “they are yet to go into commercial supply of potable water, scrap metal recycling, galvanising, electroplating, rewinding of transformers, electric motor and generators, diagnosis and repair of electronic equipment as well as destructive and non-destructive testing.”

Like Ogbeifun, the Rear Admiral told participants at the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping's Round Table that the shipyards in the country were facing serious challenges, which if not quickly addressed could lead to their demise.

“Very few materials consumed in ship repair yards are manufactured in Nigeria. Most of them are imported by suppliers of ships or ship repair yards. Frequently, ship repair or dry docking duration are extended because of delays in procuring these materials. Some examples of such materials include classified steel plates, Zinc ingots for anode production, welding gases and electrodes, ferrous and non-ferrous pipes and joints of various sizes as well as blasting media. Others are Copper Conductors for rewinding generators and motors, electronic circuit component as well as navigation and communication equipment.”

The Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Ltd which also presented a paper; Ship repair and dry-docking, the NLNG experience said easy access from the sea often determine the place for dry-docking of its fleet. It said a Graving dock facilities would be needed for the dry-docking of its ship instead of floating dock just as the dock would need to be fitted with suitable carnage.

Although the company was silent on where and when next to dry-dock its vessels, it said only shipyards specially constructed, equipped and possess the necessary experience and skills would be able to carry out LNG vessel docking repairs safely.

“To this extent, only pre-vetted shipyards are engaged for undertaking repair works on LNG vessels. The choice of dry dock should be close to trading routes. The NLNG chartered vessels mostly trade in Atlantic basin, on long term contracts, with the majority of customers and cargo deliveries being within Europe.”

The Director General of the Chamber of Shipping, Mrs. Ify Anazonwu Akerele said the Maritime Round Table was another way the Chamber fashioned out to contribute to capacity building efforts in the nation's maritime industry.

“The Chamber had in the past introduced a lot of innovations to capacity building in shipping through exchange programmes, creating channels of opportunities for business, as well as making business information available and accessible to various stakeholders in the industry.”

According to her, the latest introduction, the Maritime Round Table was another “first from the NCS basically created for all stakeholders to work in co-operation, for us to discuss the sector, be acquainted and involve in the policy trust and also be co-participant in implementation.”

She said the Round Table was being added to the functional schemes of the Chamber to complement its milestones achievement and in line with the aims and objective of the 2002 established chamber.

“By this programme, we will achieve greater integration among stakeholders in the public and private sector for mutual benefits of players and regulators. We are aware that the growth of individual units and businesses in the multi-dimensional operations of shipping will have positive stimulus on the overall economy of Nigeria. Government will get the kudos and operators will celebrate progressive growth of their businesses.”