A report of the Joint Senate Committee on Navy, Marine Transport and Finance has exonerated marine security company, Ocean Marine Solutions Limited (OMSL) of involvement in illegal security activities on the Secured Anchorage Area of Lagos Ports.
In a 40-page document seen by Aledeh News, the Senate Committee listed the responses of the Nigerian Navy, NIMASA, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Ocean Marine and others in its investigation of the activities against the company.
The document, which has the report was submitted to the Senate in December 2019 and was titled “Investigation of Illegal Security Activities By Ocean Marine Solutions Limited (OMSL) At The Secured Anchorage Area of Lagos Ports”.
The joint committee was saddled with the responsibility of finding the cause of the infractions between the parties involved and finding and recommending possible solutions to the infractions.
Also investigated by the committee were allegations that Ocean Marine was operating illegally, as accused by the NPA, and that it doesn’t remit funds to the federal government’s coffers.
As part of the investigations, nine critical stakeholders were identified and they include; The Ministry of Transportation; NPA; NIMASA; Nigerian Navy; Ocean Marine; Nigerian Shippers Council; National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders; Ship Owners Association of Nigeria; and the Marine Section of the Nigeria Police Force.
The NPA, in its allegation said Ocean Marine charged exorbitantly to provide security in the Lagos Ports Anchorage and this led to high cost of business for vessels. It said the Navy was provided with three Patrol Boats in 2014 for the security of the Lagos Anchorage but found out that the vessels were used to provide security for Ocean Marines.
The NPA said Ocean Marine charged vessel owners $2500 for the first day, and $1500/day for subsequent days and said the charges raised the cost of vessels calling at the Nigerian Ports. It also wrote to the Navy that the Anchorage should be halted as it had its own security provision in place.
On its part, the Navy confirmed that the NPA provided three patrol boats for security of the ports but they were not sufficient enough to patrol the areas under coverage. The Navy said it sought the services of Private Maritime Logistics Supports Companies (PMLSC) with the approval of the Ministry of Defence, the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA). It also revealed to the committee that the NPA and NIMASA both accepted its MoU with Ocean Marine for the operation of the Secured Anchorage Area (SAA).
The Navy corroborated Ocean Marine’s claims that it was operating legally at the SAA through its extant MoU with the Nigerian Navy and also that the company has been operating on the SAA alongside the Navy since 2013. It further confirmed that the NPA wrote in a letter in October 2019 that it has no contractual agreement with Ocean Marine and requested for the stoppage of the SAA with the intention of establishing a new framework for the Lagos Anchorage alongside other agencies.
The Navy said in its meeting with the NPA and NIMASA on the 29th of October 2019, there was an agreement to establish an interim security framework to secure the Lagos Anchorage but said it warned the agencies that its deficit of 150 vessels and the stoppage of the SAA operated by Ocean Marine could lead to security lapses and return the Lagos Anchorage to security dangers witnessed in 2012 and 2013.
Ocean Marine in its claims said it paid its taxes as and when due and has an up to date tax clearance certificate to show for it. The company said it came in at a dire period in Nigeria’s marine security as it lost businesses to Togo, Ghana and Benin Republic as a result of inability to keep pirates off Nigerian shores and secure vessels. The company said the successes it recorded with International Oil Companies (IOCs) was important in what led the Navy to introduce it to NIMASA and the NPA for the provision of security for the Lagos Anchorage, and revealed that they all had strategic meetings afterwards.
Ocean Marine revealed that there was no budgetary allocation provided to sponsor the SAA and that led it to seeing the business opportunity that will benefit every party involved through provision of security for vessel owners.
The company said its decision led to the MoU it signed with the Navy for the provision of logistics support that will aid in providing dedicated safety platforms for IOCs, and in turn, encourage vessel owners and companies on shore.
Ocean Marine said it was encouraged to submit a business plan to support the SAA operations and guarantee return on investment at zero cost to the federal government.
The company said upon approval of its plan by the Navy, it went ahead to provide security at the SAA everyday throughout the year and also provided extra security and patrol for companies that waited offshore for berth allocation.
In the Ministry of Transportation’s submission, through the Minister of State, Gbemisola Saraki, it said the NPA notified it of the operations of Ocean Marine, and had accused the company of failing to remit any fund to federal coffers. She also said the Navy had agreed to review or terminate the agreement keeping the company operational on the SAA.
She told the committee that Ocean Marine wrote to the Ministry on October 16th, 2019 seeking its intervention in respect of the Marine Notice published by the NPA about stopping the SAA, regardless of its heavy investment and recorded successes.
The Ministry said it called for a meeting on the 9th of December, 2019 after it received a letter from the Navy calling for the replacement of the SAA, after Ocean Marine’s letter. The Ministry planned to have the stakeholders involved in order to reach a more holistic decision.
The Ministry concluded that the Marine Notice by the NPA was hasty, as there was a need for interaction among involved parties before the issuance of such proclamation.
In its submission, the Nigerian Shippers Council at the time said it needed time to understand the situation better as it only had information that the SAA was a joint venture between Ocean Marine and the Navy. While it protects the interest of shippers, it said it was not perfectly placed to weigh in on the issue as it needed a better standpoint.
On its part, Ship Owners Association said the stoppage or dismantling of the SAA will disrupt the security framework on Lagos ports and will compound Nigeria’s status as a high risk area. It warned at the time that Lagos waters will be infiltrated again by pirates and worsen the low patronage already experienced on Nigerian ports.
The association was vocal in its submission as it said the facility will render Nigerian ports unattractive to ship owners. It added that rather than embark of the dismantling of the SAA, it should be improved upon.
Freight Forwarders in their presentation to the Joint committee through its President, Increase Uche also reiterated the claims of the Ship owners and said the security situation on ports prior to the SAA was a source of concern.
The forwarders said high cost of vessel operations complained about by the NPA has been left unattended to, as they added that the SAA has been effective and that the NPA’s jurisdiction doesn’t cover the SAA.
The Marine Police on its part said while it was excluded in the agreement that brought about the SAA, it understood that it came up to shore the security following the series of pirates attacks experienced by vessel owners on Nigerian shores in 2012. It said the SAA is 10 Nautical miles away from the NPA and is not under the jurisdiction of ports authority. It also added that the patrol boats currently used by the Navy are owned by OMSL(Ocean Marine).
NIMASA said its primary responsibility is to ensure maritime safety on Nigerian waters and said the Navy has no right to establish an anchorage. It said the establishment of the SAA is capital intensive and may prove too high for some vessels and their owners who might risk not anchoring their vessels or seek other methods. It said the NPA is responsible for the Anchorage of the ports and NIMASA should be in charge of the SAA. The agency called for a stakeholders meeting to establish a standard procedure for assigning responsibilities, enforcement and monitoring in the Anchorage area.
After its deliberations, the Joint Committee found that the operations of Ocean Marine/OMSL is legal due to the fact that the SAA was established in a meeting that had the NPA and NIMASA in attendance, and with an approval issued through a Marine Notice on the 27th of November 2013 on the Vanguard Newspaper and on the 4th of April 2014 on the Guardian Newspapers.
The committee also said Ocean Marine’s agreement is not a Public Private Partnership (PPP) and as such, doesn’t require that the company should remit funds to the account of the federal government.
The committee in its general findings said it found that two of the three patrol boats given to the Nigerian Navy by the NPA are dysfunctional. It also added that the Navy had a 150-vessel deficit. It said the establishment of the SAA was in no way a subject of national security concern. It however said the neutrality of the Nigerian Navy cannot be ascertained as it operates on platforms provided by the logistics support of OMSL.
The committee said OMSL has not contravened any extant provision of national or international law ascribed to, by Nigeria. It said the operations of the company is in line with international best practices and were reviewed by international companies and have been dubbed safe and secure.
It added that the company currently employs over 7,500 Nigerians directly or indirectly and has invested heavily by providing 63 vessels on the SAA.
The findings of the committee also revealed that it is cheaper for IOCs to seek logistics support from OMSL as it cost them $2500 for the first day and $1500 subsequently. It found that in previous years, it cost the companies three armed mercenaries and $7500 per day.
Furthermore, the committee acknowledged the NPA’s quest to help promote the ease of doing business in Nigeria, through providing cheaper ports calling for vessels, but said the shippers council has the responsibility of regulating that, and as such it is not appropriate for the NPA to act unilaterally in that regard.
It further called for the establishment of the SAA in other ports in the country adding that it will be extremely difficult to convince a maritime expert that the money charged ship owners is expensive.
The Committee in its finding said the fright charges have stabilised since the establishment of the SAA in 2013 and that it has restored the confidence of shippers and merchants in the use of Lagos ports. It said contrary to the claims of the NPA that it is increasing government expenditure, it is helping government to save costs by providing on-shore security.
The joint committee asked that plans for the replacement of the SAA be shelved as there are no credible arrangements in place.
It also recommended that Ocean Marine should be commended for investing over $400m in providing security on Nigerian waters through its provision of logistics support for the Navy.
The committee also called for more funding of the Nigerian Navy in order to clear its deficit of 150 vessels.
Chairman of OMSL, Captain Idahosa Okunbor expressed disappointment in the length to which the reputation of the company was dragged in the fiasco.
He said he felt bad that his his integrity was questioned despite his efforts to see that the waterways were more secured.
Revealing how he established his company as a result of the struggles faced by IOCs from militants in 2006 in the Niger Delta, he said the company was only six years old when it went to Lagos Ports to provide security services for the companies that operated on shore.
Capt. Hosa also said the Nigerian Navy didn’t provide enough defence for it when it faced the allegations by the NPA. He said coming in to provide the logistics support for the Navy was beyond money for him, as he found a way to help the country, and make it more secure.