By NBF News
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Federal government has constituted a committee to fast track the participation of indigenous ship owners in the lifting of the nation's crude which was before now an exclusive preserve of foreign operators.

The committee which was constituted on behalf of the federal government by the Ministry of Transport has 12 members and has two weeks within which to submit its report. Part of the committee's mandate is to work out modalities of having indigenous ship owners to transport crude oil.

Minister of Transport, Alhaji Yusuf Suleiman, who presided over a meeting of the stakeholders in the maritime industry in Lagos, said the ministry was making efforts to ensure indigenous ship owners secureĀ  government's approval to move crude oil.

The committee comprised representatives of the Federal Ministry of Transport, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Indigenous Shipowners Association of Nigeria (ISAN), Federal Ministry of Finance and two other representatives.

Suleiman explained that there was need for Government and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to approve the shipment of oil based on Cost Insurance and Freight (CIF).

The minister noted that a lot of monies that would have been collected by government agencies got missing through sales of the crude oil based on Free on Board (FOB).

He said such sales pattern had led to revenue leakages and stunted growth in the maritime industry.

Suleiman said the ministry would discuss with NNPC to be sure that its operations would not be jeopardised by the indigenous ship owners.

According to him, 'We will talk to NNPC to start the process of freight and asked the shipping companies to start carrying bilateral cargoes.'

He said the NNPC and the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources had insisted that indigenous ship owners must show that they are capable of effectively handling the cargoes. Suleiman said in doing this, government would be very careful so that it would not have a repeat of what happened during the cargo allocation era.

If the cargoes are given to indigenous shipping companies, the economy would develop and more job opportunities would be created, the minister said.

On controversies over the waiver clause in the Cabotage Act, the minister said in line with what obtains in other countries, he agreed that for any company that applied for waiver or exemption, the requests could be forwarded to ISAN for their own suggestions.

Suleiman said this would determine whether an indigenous company could handle it or not.

The Chairman of ISAN, Chief Isaac Jolapamo said more than 200 ships owned by members of the association, mostly tankers and off_dock supply vessels were old.

Jolapamo recalled that sometimes the association asked for ship repair and refurbishment fund so that some of the old vessels could be repaired, but nothing was done by government. He called for strict enforcement of the cabotage law for government to generate enough revenue for the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) for Nigerian to acquire new vessels.

Jolapamo, however, advised that government should not give such fund (CVFF) to tho not having vessels that had worked for five to ten years so that the loans would not be diverted.

He urged the government to address the issue of manpower development and the maritime development bank.