The funds, which came in local and foreign currencies, include the sum of $155m (N24.5 billion) and another sum of N8.9 billion in local currency.
The Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar, disclosed this Tuesday, at the opening of an investigative hearing on the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund by an ad hoc committee of the House of Representatives.
Umar said six indigenous firms had been positioned to benefit from the fund.
These include Starzs Investment Company, Aquashield Oil and Marine Services Limited, Nkrah Investment, Zomay Marine and Logistic Limited, UTM Dredging Limited and SeaBulk Offshore Operating Nigeria Limited.
The Ministry of Transport, he said, had evaluated the requests of these firms and had embarked on further due diligence to ascertain that the funds were disbursed to bona fide beneficiaries.
Umar, who gave a general overview of the enforcement of the Cabotage Act, said the delay in the implementation of the law was to enable the fund to accumulate enough for distribution to its intended beneficiaries.
The Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund was established by Section 42 Part V111 of the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act, 2003.
The fund was meant to promote the development of indigenous ship acquisition capacity by providing assistance to Nigerian operators in the domestic and coastal shipping.
Section 44 of the Cabotage Act empowers the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to collect, deposit and administer the fund in commercial banks under guidelines proposed by the Minister of Transport and approved by the National Assembly.
Responding, the Chairman, House Committee on Marine Transport, Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, said the investigation exercise was a step in the right direction as it would advance the interest of indigenous shippers in the maritime industry.
Ugwuanyi disclosed that as part of the process of deepening the participation of Nigerians in the maritime sector, the House Committee had concluded work on the amendments to the Nigeria Cabotage Act.
“The Cabotage Amendment Bill is ready and will be presented to the House as soon as the Salah break is over. As a committee, we will continue to do our best to ensure the growth and development of the maritime sector,” Ugwuanyi said.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, who declared the investigation open, said the Nigerian maritime sector had over the years suffered from the cancer of ineptitude occasioned by poor regulatory framework.
Tambuwal said in spite of the enactment of the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act in 2003, the Nigerian Inland Water Ways had remained grossly inactive.
“The desired salutary effect has not been seen in the volume of cabotage business going in Nigeria. The fear is that some unpatriotic people are misapplying the Cabotage Vessel Financing Funds to the detriment of its objectives,” he said.
Tambuwal explained that the investigation was not designed to witch-hunt any individual or group, but a constitutional responsibility pursuant to Sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
The Chairman of the Ad-hoc committee, Hon. Christopher Eta, expressed dissatisfaction on the state of the maritime sector and urged all stakeholders to join hands to make it move forward.
Information from This Day was used in this report.