The history of the Nigerian Shipping fleet dates back to the pre-colonial era when the colonial masters dominated almost every aspect of the country’s economic activities. Shipping was not spared as it was totally dominated by foreign shipping lines amongst which were Elder Dempster Lines Ltd. and Palm Line Ltd.
However, and in order to reduce the dominant role by the foreign shipping lines, the establishment of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) was conceived. The conception for the establishment of the NNSL was borne out of government’s deliberate policy not only to reduce foreign dominance, participate in the invisible earning sector of the economy, but also as part of its economic independence from the colonial masters and the creation of the country’s image in Africa and the World.
Consequently, the NNSL came into being through a Private members Motion in the Federal House of Representative in 1958 and 1959 calling for the establishment of a Government Shipping line that would carry the country’s flag to the sea of the world. In this regard, the motion was passed into an Act of Parliament in 1959 thus leading to the incorporation of NNSL with the following objectives:
- To project the good image of Nigeria abroad by flying the Nation’s flag on the High seas and world seaports;
- To promote the acquisition of shipping technology by earning and diversifying employment opportunities in the shipping industry;
- To improve the country’s balance of payments position by enhancing the earnings and conservation of foreign exchange’;
- To assist in the economic integration of the West and Central African sub-region;
- To support the Nigerian Navy in the event of conflict.
The NNSL was then incorporated with an Authorised and fully paid-up Share Capital of £4,000.000 (four million pounds sterling) held jointly by the Federal Government and two non-Nigerian Shipping Lines, namely: Elder Dempster Lines Limited and Palm Line Limited both British which were technical partners. The Federal Government held a controlling share of 51% while the two technical partners had 49% between them.
In 1961, rather prematurely, the non-Nigerian equity holdings were bought out and the NNSL became wholly owned by the Federal Government with Nigerian Management in total control. The company however, had a small office in Liverpool in the United Kingdom wholly manned by British personnel for fleet management which included technical ship maintenance and commercial programming.
Elder Dempster Lines were also General agents in the UK which provided the major ports of call. The company NNSL started operations with four second hand vessels in 1959 and the vessels increased to 15by 1971, but at that time the ships were already becoming old and unable to meet the challenges of modern shipping.
The Federal Government then decided to increase the fleet with 19 combo vessels. However, by the time the first of the new ships was delivered in 1976/77 changes in ship technology and containerisation concept had taken place and unfortunately all the 19 ships were the same type – combo vessels thus signalling a serious operational problem.
Moreover, when the 19 new vessels were introduced into the service, there was no working capital. Even the initial bunkering of the vessels at the builders’ ship yard was done on credit. The situation was however managed because in 1973 NNSL incorporated a subsidiary company known as NIGERLINE (UK) Ltd based in Liverpool, England.
BY 1980, the NNSL’s fleets stood at 27 with a tonnage of 661,030 dwt, the highest ever attained by the company before its demise.
With the demise of and eventual liquidation, the Federal Government through the National Maritime Authority (NMA) floated the National Unity Line in 1995. The company on commencement of operation began to witness similar problems that led to the collapse of NNSL. The National Unity Line subsequently went under as it could not meet its financial obligations of its creditors
PRIVATE SECTOR PARTICIPATION IN SHIPPING
It is also pertinent to note that after the establishment of the NNSL the coast was also opened for private sector participation in shipping. Between 1972 and 1980, there was a surge in the private sector initiatives in maritime trade. The period witnessed the emergence of:
- The Nigerian/Far East Line owned by late Henry Fajimirokun’
- Nigerian Green Lines owned by AlhajiFolawiyo; and
- Nigerbras owned by Alhaji Mahmud Waziri.
These companies made their mark in the maritime trade. Furthermore, when the National Shipping Policy Decree was promulgated in 1987, three more privately owned Nigerian Shipping Lines were incorporated namely – BulkshipNig. Ltd., African Ocean Line and Brawal Lines Ltd. The foregoing shipping companies were among the shipping lines granted national carrier status by the National Maritime Authority (NMA) now NIMASA. Presently there are over twenty indigenous shipping companies operating with about 49 vessels which are either chartered or jointly owned. Some of these companies are Morlap, Cardion, Sifax, Daddo Maritime, Clover Leaf, amongst others.
D. E. Ogbaje