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NIMASA: Tackling marine pollution, piracy for safe shipping on Nigerian waters

Apparently, about 90 percent of global trades is moved by sea using ships from ports of origin to the destination ports. This shows that shipping is a very sensitive international business that must be guarded jealously by ensuring the safety of lives and billions of dollars worth of property onboard vessels by maintaining pollution-free marine environment and reducing the menace of piracy.

Marine litter can be described as any man-made object discarded, disposed of, or abandoned that enters the coastal or marine environment. It can be very dangerous, and has the capacity to threaten oceans and coasts, endangers marine animals and seabirds, affects navigation of vessels and also has health and safety implications on lives.

Businessday search shows that about 1,964,175.63 kilogramme of garbage and 12,529 cubic meters of oily waste were collected in Lagos Ports by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) from January to November, 2019 alone. These statistics speak to the fact that the amount of waste disposed in the nation’s territorial waters can become endangering if not properly managed.

Also, it was discovered that about $13 billion worth of damage is caused annually to the marine environment by plastic pollution, which poses serious threat to the development of blue economy.

Alarmingly, about 90 percent of ocean plastic waste originates from Asia and Africa, and can be traced to just 10 rivers, including River Niger, largely due to poor management of waste.

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To tackle pollution at sea and preserve marine resources, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), an organ of the United Nations, saddled with the responsibility of regulating shipping activities globally, developed series of conventions that must be followed by maritime nations in order to ensure safe navigation of vessels and security of cargoes on international and local waters.

These include the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL); the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and other Matter (London Convention), 1972, among others.

In Nigeria, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the apex maritime regulatory agency, among other things, went as far as domesticating the relevant conventions of IMO, to enable it manage and control pollution at sea.

Given insight into the activities of NIMASA on marine environmental management, Felicia Mogo, head, Pollution Control Division of the Marine Environment Department of NIMASA, stated that the agency embarked on the development of a global initiative on marine litter through the execution of public education programmes for environmental stewardship and implementation of policies supported by government and private sector individuals.

Mogo, who co-chaired the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Global Partnership Action (GPA), UNEP-GPA Advisory Group on Marine Litter, said that NIMASA initiated action plan for coastal and beach clean-up campaigns in identified hot-spots.

While promising that NIMASA will implement litter/solid waste management programme such as waste collection, wastes recycling, waste-to-wealth, installation trash traps, she stated that Marine Environment Management (MEM) officers carried out monitoring of initial inspection surveys, the actual removal and clearance at hot spots and post clearing at all the agency’s operational zones including central, Eastern and Western Zones.

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“Other activities carried out were, clean-up of the identified Marine Litter hotspots in Nigeria’s coastal states of Cross River, Rivers, Delta, Ondo, and Lagos (2019); supervision of the engaged 120 Marine Litter Marshalls and pre–clean-up of Marine litter in Ogogoro Snake Island,” she stated.

Meanwhile, Dakuku Peterside, director-general of NIMASA, disclosed recently in Lagos, that the agency in conjunction with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Global Partnership Action (GPA) developed a national action plan for tackling marine litters and pollution at sea.

“One of such actions was the launch of ‘Operation 30 Days at Sea’ which commenced from Tuesday, 1st to 31st October, 2019 and it had three targets namely: Pollution from vessels and offshore installations; land or river-based sources of pollution, impacting on the marine environment; and wastes trafficking through the ports,” he listed.

According to him, the above mentioned operation enabled the agency to board a total of 87 vessels across the western and eastern zones. “This resulted to high compliance by stakeholders; detention of ships; less terrorism attacks onboard ships/ water; elimination of illegal bunkering activities; absence of human/drug trafficking; and absence of pipeline vandalism, among others.”

He stated that the agency had through its MEM Department, successfully carried out hazardous wastes and dangerous chemical tracking programmes at all its operational zones under the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code, an acceptable international guideline to safe transportation or shipment of dangerous goods or hazardous materials by water on vessel.

In addition to that, it was discovered that NIMASA had also developed the IMDG portal and installation of exact Earth and Hazcheck Systems software for tracking of dangerous goods in Nigeria. This was in fulfilment of chapter seven of the SOLAS Convention and Annexes 2 and 3 of MARPOL Convention.

“With this move, we have addressed the identified gaps in the management of chemicals and hazardous wastes within the maritime domain and we are currently, remodeling the Marine Pollution Laboratory to an internationally accepted modern,” Peterside said.

This when completed, he believed, would cater for the laboratory analysis aspects of the relevant Marine Environment Conventions of the IMO including the Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response Cooperation (IOPC); Ballast Water Convention and Anti-fouling Systems (AFS).

Pundits believed that safe shipping cannot be achieved without the safety and security of both crew and cargoes onboard the vessel. Being one of the core mandates of NIMASA, it was also very crucial to the survival of the global shipping business.

Recall that the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) had repeatedly reported various degrees of pirate and sea robbery attacks on vessels and kidnapping of crews onboard within the Gulf of Guinea (GOG), a region that houses Nigerian territorial waters.

In order to stem this tide, NIMASA, in collaboration with the ministries of Transportation, Defence, the Nigerian Navy and other relevant security agencies, recently launched a multidimensional solution to the problem.

The Federal Government conceived the Deep Blue Project involving a Total Spectrum of Maritime Security, which includes law enforcement, regional cooperation, response capabilities building, and enhanced maritime domain awareness for all organs of government responsible for maritime security.

“To execute the Deep Blue Project, the service of the Homeland Security International (HLSI) from Israel was engaged to help Nigeria in the training of personnel and procurement of hardware for the safety and security of the country’s waterways and the Gulf of Guinea,” Peterside further stated.

According to him, African leaders, who were concerned met at various times to brainstorm and find lasting solution to the security challenges in the region, with Nigeria taking the lead, to ensure a robust African maritime sector that will attract more participation from the international community.

Despite the stride recorded by NIMASA in previous years in the area of marine pollution control and fight against piracy, industry close watchers believed that the agency needs to do more to ensure global best practices and to attract more investors that will help open up the nation’s blue economy to contribute to the nation’s GDP.

Against this backdrop, the agency in 2018 started NIMASA Corporate Dinner and Awards Night, an annual event that rewards hard work and industry players, who played by the rule of complying to maritime regulations, thereby making Nigeria a force to reckon with in the comity of maritime nations.

Already, this year’s event has been scheduled to hold tomorrow Saturday, January 18, 2020, to enable the Agency present awards to those who have imbibed best practices in the day-to-day running of the sector.

The categories to be awarded include; Most Compliant ISPS Offshore and Onshore Facility; Best Terminal and Jetty Operator; Best Maritime Training Institution, and Best Shipping Company (Marine Environment Management).

Others are; Overall Shipping Company; Best Cabotage Operator; Company with Largest Combined Tonnages and Best Maritime Financing Banks, among other categories of awards.

Also, the award ceremony will reward staffs who have contributed meritoriously to the service Agency, ranging from fifteen to thirty years.

“Our existence as an Agency is largely dependent on our stakeholders; without which we cannot achieve anything. Of a truth, there have been times of disparagement, sanctions and enforcement; all these were geared towards ensuring the right thing is done and laid down rules and regulations are adhered to. The Agency is therefore, poised to reward hard work and encourage more investments in the maritime sector by appreciating those who have done well,” the NIMASA boss stated.

He further said that an independent panel of judges headed by Adebayo Sarumi, a former managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority ( NPA), will screen the award nominees in order to ensure transparency in the process.

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