Maritime workers insist on strike over NIMASA, NLNG face-off

A ship berths near the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas company (NLNG) near Finima village, during an aerial tour by the Royal Dutch Shell company, in BonnyElounye Koyeghwaeyi

28 May 2013, Sweetcrude, Lagos – LEADERS of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, MWUN, have insisted that the threat to shut down the nation’s Maritime sector over alleged refusal of Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Ltd, NLNG, to the statutory levies to Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, still subsists.

MWUN had in the second week on May in a petition to President Goodluck Jonathan, issued a 21-day to NLNG to pay to NIMASA without further delay, all accumulated 3% levies on gross freight and 2% surcharge due on its cabotage contracts to NIMASA failing which the union will shut down all the ports operations in the country including NLNG areas of operation.

At a rally to commend President Jonathan for ongoing capacity building and oversea training of Nigerians in critical maritime sector, warned that at expiration of ultimatum (this week), if the issue was not resolved in favour of NIMASA, the ports would be shut down.

President-General of MWUN, Anthony Nted Emmanuel, said “we have made it clear that after 21 days, if the issue is not resolved and NIMASA paid accordingly, we will shut down the sector. We hear they are meeting; our concern is not meeting, but resolution that will compel NLNG to pay the accumulated levies and dues. This affects our members and their training. The default started in 2004, but we hear there is agreement for the payment to commence in 2009. But the payment has not been effected. So, we are waiting and mobilizing.

The union had petitioned President Jonathan, pleading with him to intervene in the on-going dispute between NIMASA and NLNG and compel NLNG to pay NIMASA’s statutory levies in the interest of the welfare and training of Dockworkers and seafarers.

Similarly, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, urged President Goodluck Jonathan to call NLNG, to order, over its alleged refusal to pay the statutory levies of 3% gross freight on international inbound and outbound cargoes carried by NLNG vessels engaged in cabotage trade to NIMASA.

TUC argued that whether such vessels owned by their subsidiary, Bonny Gas Transport Limited or chartered by them, and the 2% of contract sum on their vessels, whether owned by their wholly-owned subsidiary, Bonny Gas Transport Limited or chartered by them, engaged in cabotage trade should be paid to NIMASA.

At a briefing Nted, said “we are aware that the law setting up NIMASA i.e. the NIMASA Act 2007 in section 15 stipulates that the Agency shall be funded by monies accruing to it from among other sources – 3 percent of gross freight on all international inbound and outbound cargoes from ships or shipping companies operating in Nigeria… as part of the funds to meet the operational cost of the Agency. The law also makes it clear that all ships and shipping companies operating in Nigeria are expected to obey this provision. We are also aware Sir, that apart from its general duty with respect to the development of shipping and merchant shipping and seafarers, NlMASA i.e. the only Agency of government statutorily empowered to: “Provide direction on, qualification, certification, employment and welfare of maritime labour in Nigeria; regulate and administer the certification of seafarers; establish maritime training and safety standards; enforce and administer the provisions of the Cabotage Act 2003/ and develop and implement policies and programmes which will facilitate the growth of local capacity in ownership, manning and construction of ships and other maritime infrastructure in Nigeria; among other responsibilities.”

“The foregoing provision clearly puts NIMASA at a very strategic position with respect to maritime labour issues in Nigeria particularly as regards the training of Seafarers and Dockworkers. Iv1r President would recall that this was the sole duty of the defunct Joint Maritime Labour Industrial Council, JOMALIC, before the Council was merged with the then Nigerian Maritime Authority, NMA, to form the present NIMASA in 2007, Hence it is now the statutory responsibility of NIMASA to undertake the training, certification, development of Seafarers and Dockworkers in order to meet the needs of the industry. Also by the nature of the maritime industry world-wide, maritime training has to be done both locally and abroad.

“It is a known fact that training and other maritime infrastructure development are capital intensive. Hence NIMASA’s responsibility in this regard cannot be’ met with its lean budgetary allocations. It is in this respect that we are particularly surprised to learn of the flagrant refusal by the NLNG to pay the statutory levies due to the government on it is shipping activities as well as the 2% levy on its cabotage activities in Nigeria’s coastal waters. Needless to state that the said refusal by the NLNG to pay the accumulated 3% gross freight on its business activities from its inception in 1989 to date has drastically reduced the revenue available to NIMASA and in turn undermined its ability to carry out its operations, perform its statutory responsibilities and in particular compromised its ability to meet its core functions with respect to maritime labour issues in Nigeria. We recognize the danger posed by the said refusa1by the NLNG to meet its statutory responsibility with respect to payment of taxes and levies due from its operations; including the negative precedent as other companies may be tempted to toe the same line of action. This Union strongly believes that the NLNG should be subject to the laws of this country because it is operating and doing business in Nigeria.”

Meantime while, commending President Jonathan, for capacity building and empowering Nigerians to take up critical jobs in the nation’s maritime industry, MWUN President-General
called on the President to do more and ensure that in the nearest future Nigeria would become a supplier of highly trained professionals in maritime industry to other sub-Saharan countries.
According to Nted, over 2000 Nigerians had been sent abroad for training captains, Marine engineers, Naval Architects among others, saying before the end of the year 1000 would going for similar training.
He recalled that Nigeria used to a have a fleet of vessels managed by Nigerian National Shipping Line, but all had disappeared and the captains, Marine engineers and other highly trained professionals had left Nigeria for greener pasture.
According to him, “Today, President Goodluck Jonathan, has been trying to revive this area dearth of highly skilled professionals in the country and so far, he has done well. But like Oliver Twist, we are expecting more. The President through NIMASA has been sending many Nigerians out of this country for training on Maritime related programme. A time will come when other countries in sub-Saharan Africa will be coming here to look for captains on board, Marine Engineers and Naval Architects. Over 2,000 have gone and at the end of this year, another 1,000 will be traveling out for seminar training. Some of them have travelled to Philippine, India among other countries.

“You know that the Philippine is a centre of maritime activities. Many countries send their nationals there to be professionally trained. Most of the vessels that ply Nigerian waters are foreign vessels and majority of the seafarers you see on board are the Philippinos, the captains, the marine Engineer and so on. The implication is that they have taken the jobs meant for Nigerians. That is why we are happy with what the government is doing. That is why we said let us organize solidarity to thank the president for what he has done in the Maritime industry. And also ask for more. We are not politicians. All we are doing today is not politically motivated. When they do what is wrong we will shout and when they do what is right, we will say Mr. President thank you. It is not all the time we criticize. We also come out to commend when it is right. In the Maritime industry, we believe in constructive criticism.”

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