The invisible industry: Solving Nigeria’s sea blindness

It is interesting that for a country like Nigeria—which ranks in the first quarter of the world’s import ranking and which imports all sorts of products from refined petroleum, to oats, medications, electrical appliances and cars— many know so little about the maritime industry, which permeates almost every element of our lives. Nigeria is also heavily dependent on its oil industry and although many seem to be knowledgeable about oil and gas—to some extent—the maritime industry that boosts this industry is largely invisible. In fact, few people make the connection of the indispensable nature of the maritime industry to the oil and gas industry.

This lack of insight into the central and strategic importance of the maritime industry is termed ‘sea blindness’. The aim of this article and successive pieces on this column is to bring the maritime industry out of its shadows, and give it the recognition and interest it deserves.

So the following are a few reasons I believe the maritime industry is exciting, important and deserving of your attention:

  1. 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by water? Of this 70%, 97% is in the oceans and inland seas. This means that perhaps the maritime industry is technically the biggest industry or at least the most ubiquitous? The world’s waters are over a billion years old and therefore the maritime industry is perhaps the oldest industry in existence? It is estimated that the first ships date back to 4000 BCE. I further posit that even before ships were built, the maritime industry has been relevant to man from the first day any seafood was eaten on earth.
  1. The maritime industry is way more than shipping and ships. Although it is a major part of it, there is so much more. Comprehensive studies in the maritime industry include ship design, ship repairs and building, ship classification, marine insurance, trade and cruise shipping, yachting, fishing / legal and illegal, protection of the marine environment, maritime security, navigation and aids to navigation (basically what traffic lights and road signs are to vehicles), maritime sciences (cartography, oceanography etc), port construction, controls and logistics, amongst several others. In fact, the oil and gas industry is an offshoot of the maritime industry. Oil and gas are usually found in pockets under the sea, therefore all exploration must have regard for the maritime industry and its rules.
  1. Just as people own parcels of land, countries also lay claim to parts of the sea? The process of figuring out how much claim each country has to the sea is known as delimitation. Each country according to International Maritime laws has a 12 nautical mile claim to the waters immediately off its shore. It is called its territorial sea. They have complete sovereignty over that portion and make do there whatever they can do on their land territory. The 200 nautical miles after the territorial sea is called the Exclusive Economic Zone. This zone is only to harness the economic proceeds of the industry therefore activities like controlling fishing, oil and gas exploration can occur there. The Continental Shelf is the extension of a country’s land mass under the sea, the limit of which is also 200nm (in some special circumstances 350nm). Rights to exploit the resources of the seabed including oil and gas explorations, are claimed through the continental shelf. These rights in these zones highly important for a nation’s economy and several nations go to truly incredible lengths to secure legal extensions to this limit. For example, both the United Kingdom and Ireland lay claim to Rockall, an isolated granite rock of 25 metres wide and a height of 17.15 metres in the North Atlantic Ocean, which in reality supports no human habitation, but according to the rules of the UNCLOS, commands a 12nm territorial sea.
  1. If you take a minute, stop and look around wherever you are, you will realise that nearly everything around you, or the materials used in making them was shipped. The maritime industry through shipping supports over 90% of world trade. Therefore practically everything we eat, wear and use every day was shipped. In 2017 for example, Nigeria, imported US$28.9 billion worth of goods from around the globe and exported US$40.7 billion worth of goods around the globe. Nigeria’s top 10 imports include mineral fuels including oil at US$8.2 billion and exported (28.2% of total imports), machinery including computers at $3.9 billion (13.5%), electrical machinery, equipment at $1.7 billion (6%), vehicles at $1.5 billion (5.1%), cereals at $1.4 billion (5%), Plastics, plastic articles at $1.3 billion (4.6%), Salt, sulphur, stone, cement at $720 million (2.5%), fish at $691.8 million (2.4%), articles of iron or steel at  $679.1 million (2.3%), other chemical goods at $646 million (2.2%). As alarming as these sums may seem, Nigerian imports represent a tiny 0.2% of total global imports which totaled $16.054 trillion in 2017. This total global import sum shows just the depth of the world’s dependence on shipping and the maritime industry, and is an indication into just how much we should care about what happens in this industry.
  1. Seafood! If you love seafood and enjoy seafood – you should care about the maritime industry because seafood, as the name obviously implies comes from the sea. Anything affecting the maritime industry, the sea affects this source of delicacies. Interest in the maritime industry should go before the love of seafood, it should also border on the economic importance the industry holds for African nations. The global fishing production in 2017 came to 174 million metric tons. The African continent is endowed with enormous coastlines with fish resources from oceans, seas, lakes, rivers, floodplains and fish farming. Yet the continent only contributes about 5% to the world’s total fish production. Countries like China, India, Indonesia, Peru, the United States, Chile, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam and Russia overtake African countries, ranking 1st to 10th respectively in the world ranking of top fish producers. The first African country on the ranking, coming in at 25th place, is Morocco. Nigeria stands as the continent’s largest catfish producer and Uganda (a landlocked state) as the continent’s highest inland fisheries capture, and 6th in the world.Fishing provides direct incomes for over 10 million people in Africa – half of whom are women and contributes to the food supply of over 200 million people and contributes millions to nation’s GDPs.However a major problems facing Africa’s fishing industry, depriving nations of much needed revenue, threatening food security, and impacting negatively on the ecology of its oceans is the problem of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (IUU). This practices include overfishing by foreign vessels granted licenses to fish or fishing by unlicensed boats or fishing of species which they are not licensed to fish. The major incentive for IUU is that affected African countries usually lack the resources to monitor and enforce compliance with its regulations. According to a recent study by Frontiers in Marine Science, the West African region loses about US$2.3 billion annually to illegal fishing. The staggering impact of this loss to the African economy is enough reason to encourage awareness of the industry and encourage increased government action in tackling all threats to its nation’s economy and maritime security.< style=”font-size: 18px;”>
  1. “The Shipping Industry is Killing Us”. This was the title of a commentary recently published in an online journal. This is probably the element of maritime industry that people come across most frequently in the major news networks. This is mainly because of global interest in reversing the tides of climate change and global warming. As ships travel across the world, they consume a lot of energy through burning of fuels. These fuels release incredible amount of carbondioxide into the atmosphere. The shipping industry as a sector contributes over a 1, 000 million tonnes of CO2 a year and is responsible for 3% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. Despite these figures and percentages, it is important to note that the shipping industry is relatively the cleanest and greenest means of transportation, emitting less carbondioxide per tonne and per kilometre than rail, truck or air transport. The shipping industry however commands such high interest because of its scale and its scale of growth.Several attempts have been made on the international legal plain to engender reduction of these emissions. These include the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the 2015 Paris Agreement etc. However compliance has been relatively sketchy with some nations pushing fervently for enforcement (mainly island nations adversely affected by global warming and rising water levels) and other nations dragging feet over compliance (traditional shipping nations or nations with large shipping industries). However, as noted by The Economist, the major problem is allocating emissions to countries i.e. which country bears more responsibility for carbon emissions. Although it is possible to point fingers to huge shipping nations, in an increasingly globalised world, it is not so clear cut; to whom should you designate emissions for shipping Chinese goods, made with South Korean components, across the Pacific to American consumers?

    Initiatives are being taken by several shipping companies to produce energy efficient vessels. An example of this is Norway’s all-electric ferry, operational since 2015, that has cut emissions by a striking 95% compared to fuel counterparts. However, although such electric battery powered vessels are excellent innovations for shallow waters and shot haul fleets, they are not viable solutions for deep sea going vessels. These deep sea going vessels still need to find alternative means of energy or zero emission fuels in order to contribute to cleaner oceans and seas.

The maritime industry has been called the invisible industry that brings you everything. The ubiquity of its impact in our lives and activities are so far reaching, yet knowledge of this industry is limited. It has also been posited that the reason for sea blindness is that the sea is so far removed from us, with modernisation and urban living, that this is a situation of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Through this article, perhaps the maritime industry will begin to form in our sights and consciousness.