Technology has deeply impacted the practice of shipping writes John Iwori, who has been following the evolution of shipping.

That modernity and science have changed the face of shipping worldwide are understatements. In many ways, science, especially information and communications technology (ICT), has impacted immensely on the maritime industry. This is due to the fact that ICT has gone a long way in dictating the pace of development in the shipping world.

This explains why river crafts have changed in shape and sizes over the years. The change is not limited to the river crafts and other equipment used in the maritime sector of the economy. Navigation has also been affected by ICT, as most river crafts are now operated in digital format rather in analogue.

Moreover, the way and manner port facilities are built nowadays differs significantly from what was obtainable in the past. The situation is not helped by the rising level of violence and insecurity across the globe, especially the threat of terrorism spearheaded by Islamist fundamentalist organisations such as Al-Qaida and their affiliates.
Till date, the 9/11 terrorist attack in the United States of America (USA) remains a reference point in how far terrorists can go to ensure maximum collateral damage on their targets, no matter where their locations are on the surface of the earth.

Rising to the Challenge
The maritime industry, just as other areas of human endeavours, has responded appropriately to evolve ways to ensure that river crafts and other modern equipment are developed to meet the present needs of shipping practitioners. It has also put measures in place to tackle some of the main challenges hindering the sustainable development and growth of the maritime industry.

Shipping is not a local business. It is a business that transcends national boundaries with set rules and regulations respected worldwide. Indeed, the global maritime watchdog, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), has guidelines and conventions that guide the building of ships, their operations, carriage of goods, repairs, seafarers welfare, navigation in coastal and international waters.

Though, these guidelines and conventions, which have been amended in several instances to meet new trends and developments are many, the key ones include Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), the International Ships and Port Facility (ISPS) Code, and the International Labour Organisation (ILO)/International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Code of Practice on Security in Ports.

Others are the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA) otherwise called the SUA Convention and Protocol 1988, the International Convention against the Taking of Hostages, the Convention on International Civil Aviation, and the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism.

The United Nations (UN) special agency with headquarters in London, United Kingdom has not left any stone unturned in its quest to meet international standards and practices in the way and manner things are done in the maritime industry. In a bid to implement these international treaties and conventions, not a few maritime nations, particularly member nations of IMO, have domesticated them.
This has given impetus to the implementation of the provisions of these conventions and codes in member nations of IMO. A case in point is the Merchant Shipping Act which was domesticated in Nigeria by the National Assembly over a decade ago.

FG Pledge
Against the backdrop of the just-concluded international boat show in New Orleans, the largest city in Louisiana, USA, the federal government said it will do everything possible to put measures in place to maximise the enormous potentials in the Nigerian maritime industry. It said it would continue to enact and execute policies that would reverse the present poor fortunes in the shipping sector of the economy.

It hinged its argument on the fact that Nigeria, nay Nigerians, stand to benefit tremendously from the maritime industry if the right thing is done consistently to uplift the industry from its present poor state.

This is coming on the heels of the argument in some quarters that if fully developed, Nigeria can rake in more revenue from the maritime industry than the amount she presently realises from the oil and gas industry that has remained the mainstay of the Nigerian economy since independence.

The argument is indubitable because many countries which do not have a drop of crude oil in their soil depend on the shipping sector of their economies to survive. Examples include Singapore, Belgium, Netherlands and Philippine.

Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Mr. Ziakede Akpobolokemi, who confirmed the development, said as a country, Nigeria and Nigerians need to avoid primordial sentiments in the enactment and execution of policies.
He revealed that the agency, which remains Nigeria’s apex maritime regulatory authority, would spearhead efforts to embark on research to reverse the fortunes of the maritime industry. He stressed that if research is intensified in finding solutions to the numerous challenges bedevilling the maritime sector of the economy, Nigerians stand to derive immense benefits from it, as many developed maritime nations are already doing.

Researching for Solutions
Giving an insight to the idea of setting up research to tackle the numerous challenges facing the maritime industry, Akpobolokemi, who was a lecturer at the Bayelsa State-owned Niger Delta University (NDU), Wilberforce Island, said those who would be involved in the research project would be drawn from the best brains across the country.
He explained that these best brains would be set aside to develop their intellect so that they can be in a position to proffer solutions that would address the myriad issues that have underpinned the sustainable development of the maritime industry.

His words: “As far as I am concerned, the 2013 world boat show in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA is a wake-up call. It calls for a sober reflection. This is because the boat show is clear evidence that the developed world is not waiting for anybody. They are moving on. They are not interested in those mundane things that we still allow to becloud our judgment and sense of reasoning.

“They are not interested in anybody place of birth, religion or political party. They are more interested in what you have to offer. They are only interested in your intellect and what you can offer to solve the myriad challenges facing mankind. It is not about 2015 general election and which person or region’s turn to take over the mantle of leadership. They are not interested in the number of political appointments that each state or region has occupied since the attainment of political independence.

“It is not about who is the Director General of NIMASA or Managing Director of NPA or NNPC. Their concern is what you have to offer. Their concern is merit and ability to achieve tangible results that will benefit their countries and citizenry. It is not about sentiments or where you come from. It is about your ability to deliver concrete results; results that will bring them good money, glory and honour to their fatherland.

“Every moment they are engaged in rigorous thinking. They are thinking of what to do to better their lot and move ahead as a people while we waste precious time thinking of perpetrating evil and illegalities in the name of politics. That is the difference between them and us.

“It pains me that Nigerian firms are not here to learn from their foreign counterparts so that we can take Nigeria, especially in the maritime sector of the economy, to the next level. Going forward, I shall like to devote resources and energy to research. I want to bring the best brains together. We want to keep them in a place where they will not be concerned about what to eat or drink but focus their entire time on how to use science and technology to ensure the sustainable development of the maritime industry.

“We will not be interested in where the person comes from but ability to achieve set goals and objectives. I strongly believe that if we pursue this project vigorously, in three or four years, we will be able to make progress. To me, intensive research on the key areas we are lacking will get us the desired results”, Akpobolokemi added.

He also expressed regret that Nigerian shipping firms were not actively involved in the international boat show, which often attracts shipping practitioners across the globe. He argued that more Nigerian companies need to be involved in the show so that they can learn from the strides the developed world have attained, especially in the use of ICT to build modern river crafts, science, navigational equipment and other port facilities.

Not a few stakeholders in the maritime sector of the economy have opined that Nigeria needs to do something tangible to maximise the immense potentials in the maritime industry. They argued that the country needs to consolidate on the gains she has already recorded and take more concrete steps to minimise her areas of losses.
They maintained that she needs to do more to drive the maritime industry to the level it can begin to yield tangible results for Nigeria and Nigerians.

“To do this, all hands must be on deck”, they declared. Not a few key players in the maritime industry will like to see how far the country can go in this regard. Are we ready to do the needful by ensuring that the right is done to put the right policies in place and implement them consistently no matter whose ox is gored? The answer to this and many more questions lie in the bowels of time.


Information from This Day was used in this report.