By Yusuf Babalola

The federal government has exempted local shipowners from paying import duty on brand new vessels.

Speaking at the Shipowners’ Association of Nigeria (SOAN) end-of-year dinner and gala night in Lagos, the director general of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr Bashir Jamoh, said the federal government has asked the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to provide forex to shipowners for ship acquisition at official rate rather than at the exorbitant black market.

Jamoh urged indigenous shipowners to take advantage of the incentives as well as the planned disbursement of the cabotage vessels finance fund (CVFF) to increase their fleet and end foreign dominance of the nation’s coastal trade.

The NIMASA boss said the incentives provided so far for indigenous shipowners is yet to lead to acquisition of vessels into the country, adding that Nigeria will lose the major gains of the huge investments in the Lekki deep seaport if indigenous stakeholders do not take advantage of the federal government’s incentives to acquire vessels.

“The government has approved zero duty for imported new ships, with older ones attracting higher duty, while the second incentives was the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) monetary incentive that guarantees forex at official rate for ship acquisition, rather than at the exorbitant black market rate, and the recent approval for the disbursement of the cabotage vessel financing fund (CVFF),” Jamoh said.

He also assured shipowners that the agency, under his leadership, would sustain all efforts to ensure a conducive operating environment for the Nigerian shipowners, saying no shipping country will thrive without being supported by the government.

“So, I try as much as possible to weigh the kind of assistance the Nigerian government can offer the shipowners in the environment they operate,” he pointed out.

Speaking on CVFF, Jamoh asked interested stakeholders to liaise with Mr. Aminu Umar of the Nigerian Shippers Association (NISA) and help build fleets for the nation, rather than quarrel over the actual amount in the fund.

Worried by the various opposing views that have marred unity of purpose on the CVFF issue over the years, he asked, “what do the shipowners really want?”

According to Jamoh, foreigners are milking the country because they have the capital to come into the country with their ships, make and take the money away.

However, he said: “it is high time we came together and ensure we benefit from what God has given us, and stop foreigners from taking over the coastal trade.”

He assured of transparency and merit in the CVFF disbursement, insisting that neither NIMASA nor the ministry would bear any liability in the whole arrangement.

“Anyone getting this fund will get it on merit, mutual understanding, and based on the agreement with the bank and NIMASA,” he said.

Jamoh further dismissed fears that the CVFF was being diverted to other ends, or not being fully declared, stating that “in terms of the amount in the CVFF, public funds are statutorily subjected to audit every year, and the CVFF is not exempt.

According to him , “It is subject to auditor-general’s audit, Federal Ministry of Transportation audit and external auditors’ audit, so it is open. Instead of fighting to see the balance, concentrate on seeing how we can disburse what is available, increase our fleet and benefit from this trade that is very precious.

“All the investments at Lekki deep seaport will be useless, if ships do not go there. So, why don’t we put heads together, get the funds, acquire the ships and make our own ports lively instead of struggling to quarrel and fight?

Earlier in his welcome address, SOAN president, Dr. Mcgeorge Onyung, commended NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy, saying without peace and security, nothing can work.

Onyung urged members to cooperate and draw down the CVFF to enhance the nation’s economic prosperity through non-oil export, explaining that if NNPC produces crude oil for export, shipping produces earning as non-oil export through freight, because when crude oil is exported, the shipping aspect is non-oil export.

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