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Ship owners suffer delay in vessel repair, discharge of cargo amid COVID-19

…Lose insurance cover, certifications, revenue through demurrage 

Consequent upon the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Nigerian ship owners have expressed concern for not being able to carry out maintenance repair on their vessels and delay in discharging their cargoes at the port.

With delay in repair, ship owners are unable to get their certifications and insurance covers because in shipping, certification and insurance cover are tied to the maintenance of the vessel.

Findings by BusinessDa show that it is also very risky for ships to continue to operate and do business without insurance cover.

Speaking in Lagos during a recent webinar session on ‘Covid-19 and the Nigerian Maritime Sector: Lessons and the Way Forward,’ Aminu Umar, a ship owner, who stated that there is always a designated timing that ships must go for repair, said that due to the outbreak of Covid-19 ship owners were not able to do maintenance on ships.

According to him, most Nigerian-owned ships that are due for repair for the past five months (January till date) are finding it difficult to dry-dock because most of the repair yards are in other countries while the one in Nigeria does not have the capacity to work on such vessels.

“The yards available for bigger vessels are in Ghana, Namibia or Dakar, and because airports are shut, ship owners cannot even move their technicians or makers of the ships to come and do the repair in-country,” Umar said.

Pointing out the need to reduce the number of government agencies that go onboard vessels for clearance, Umar said ships experience so much delay in Nigerian ports, which has affected their operations.

“With this delay, demurrages also piled up for ship owners and this has created serious conflict between the ship owners and their clients. Crew movement has also become a big problem for ship owners because we have crews that are trapped onboard after the expiration of their contracts. Some of them are already having depression or mental problems for being away from their families for long,” he said.

Umar, who also stated that Covid-19 has changed shipping procedures, said that Nigeria’s procedure is different when compared to other ports in West Africa.

“Based on the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), it takes a quarantine period of 14 days for a vessel to be allowed into the port and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) pilot goes onboard the vessel first before the Port Health.

“But in other West African countries, 24 hours before arrival, the ship owner must submit six hourly temperature readings of all the crew onboard the vessel. Here, the Port Health goes onboard the vessel first, and gives clearance before any official or pilot can board the vessel. This is to make sure that nobody on board the vessel has symptoms of Covid-19,” he said.

He however stated that European procedure where no official is allowed to board the vessel because everything is done virtually is a much preferred procedure, which Nigeria can adopt in order to reduce human interaction as well as spread of Covid-19 in Nigerian ports.

Reacting, Hadiza Bala Usman, managing director of the NPA assured ship owners that the NPA would grant waivers for movement of vessels requiring dry-dock and repair in Nigeria in order to help build ship repair industry in Nigeria.

According to her, the NPA is also engaging with the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19 to lift the directive, which states that vessels coming from high-risk countries must wait on Nigerian waters for 14 days before berthing.

“This is a big concern that is ongoing with the shipping companies. However, in line with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) submission that member states should ensure that vessels are given free passage in and out of ports, we are suggesting that maybe we can quarantine the crew because they could be the ones that may have infection,” she said.

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