Nigeria’s Port of Call
Starzs Marine & Engineering has become a go-to shipyard operator for vessel owners calling in and out of Rivers State, the company embarking on an ambitious project to expand capacity
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Josh Mann
Nigeria has taken significant strides to protect its indigenous shipping industry.
In 2003, the country’s government passed the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act, which put into law several conditions relating to participation in shipping activities, chiefly that vessels must be built and registered in Nigeria and owned and manned by Nigerian citizens.
This has served to benefit local industry operators such as Starzs Marine & Engineering, with Founder and Managing Director/CEO Greg Ogbeifun having witnessed the development of the sector during his long and illustrious career to date.
“The requirement that vessels must be built in Nigeria presents a huge opportunity for shipbuilding activities in Nigeria which is presently at a low,” he says. “However, the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) has made plans to invest $3.5 billion in vessel acquisition for local shipowners.
“And with the ExxonMobil’s Ibot, Total’s Ikike and the NLNG Train 7 projects due to have final investment decisions signed off before the end of the year, the Nigerian shipping industry is set to get a boost.”
Despite these promising signs, Ogbeifun is the first to admit that more work needs to be done if Nigeria is to fully realise the potential of its shipping industry, not least when it comes to expanding port infrastructure and training up locals to operate more ships.
“As more vessels get acquired and operate in Nigeria waters, they will require bigger and more efficient ship repair yards for dry docking services,” he continues. “Bigger vessels call for bigger ports, better cargo handling services and terminals and deeper, well-maintained channels, among other things.”
Responding to demand
It was while Ogbeifun was at Ocean Landscape in the 1980s that he realised the sizable reward to be gained from developing Nigeria’s docking facilities.
“While there are a significant number of vessels operating within Nigerian waters, there is a lack of adequate dry docking facilities and repair infrastructure to service its home market,” he explains. “For ship owners this translates into long waiting times, operational disruptions, high charges and significant loss of operating income.”
This in turn led to many vessel owners taking their ships to neighbouring countries, some even as far away as South Africa and the Canary Islands.
“It was on the premise and the need to close this gap that Starzs Marine & Engineering Limited (Starzs Shipyard) was established to provide world class ship repair services to the Nigerian shipping industry,” Ogbeifun says.
Today the shipyard stands as the oldest privately-owned indigenous ship repair yard in the country, located in the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone, Rivers State.
It operates with a 500-tonne lifting capacity floating dock and has so far carried out more than 950 dry docking and refits for clients including the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, the Nigerian Ports Authority, Nigerian Navy, and a host of other commercial ship owners within and outside the country.
This work is conducted by a 70-strong workforce, while over 400 Nigerian cadets have been provided with training opportunities.
“Being a 100 percent Nigerian company with a 100 percent Nigerian workforce is an indication of the level of skill that has been acquired by the local workforce over the years,” comments Ogbeifun.
“In all our business and activities, Starzs Marine’s driving force remains our vision to constantly provide the highest quality service to the ship repair sector of the Nigerian maritime industry that supports the growth of the Nigerian economy.”
Bigger and better
While Starzs has emerged as a go-to for vessel operators, it is very much Ogbeifun’s ambition to build on the success enjoyed to date.
“The size limitations of the existing floating dock mean that Starzs can only service a small segment of the available market, and many of our existing customers have larger vessels which they are not able to service within the current yard facilities,” he adds.
“Starzs therefore wishes to seize this opportunity and scale up its operations. To this end, we have developed a proposed expansion plan with a capacity to dry-dock vessels of up to 89 metres in length and a maximum lifting capacity of approximately 7,500 tonnes.”
The project is already at an advanced stage – shiplift providers have been identified and the company is working on the civil designs. In order to make this happen, Starzs Marine is searching for a technical partner in the form of an experienced international shipyard operator, while it is also open to local and international contractors completing the construction work.
“This project will be the first of its kind in Nigeria and Africa and will be a turning point in the ship repair industry,” Ogbeifun adds.
“It is estimated to create over 1,000 direct and indirect jobs with a capacity to dry-dock over eight vessels simultaneously. This will reduce downtime for vessel owners and improve overall turnaround time for ship repairs, and there will be a dedicated berth for new shipbuilding as well as a berth for shipbreaking.”
The shipbreaking area is another line of potential business, as it could serve as a facility for wrecks and other floating steel structures that require dismantling.
Starzs Marine’s completely indigenous workforce is a source of pride for Ogbeifun, who is determined to ensure the transfer of knowledge from any international expertise involved in the company’s expansion project.
The Founder also recognises the importance of education more generally to the socioeconomic development of Nigeria.
He adds: “As a critical stakeholder in the maritime domain, I have continued to lend my voice to the calls to upgrade the standard of learning of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria in terms of infrastructure upgrade, curriculum review and recruitment of qualified lecturers for the institution.”
The Maritime Academy of Nigeria is the country’s maritime college responsible for providing training for nautical officers, marine engineers and electrotechnical officers, and is one of many organisations Ogbeifun supports.
“Beyond the conventional educational system, mentorship is another delightful approach to developing human capacity,” he continues.
“I have taken time to mentor quite a number of people in the industry who today are highflyers in the areas of engineering, nautical science, administration and management.
“The current General Manager of the shipyard is a marine engineer who has been my mentee for over a decade. I have seen him grow into a fine engineer and he has been managing the shipyard operations for over a year now.”
A diversified future
Such a journey leaves Ogbeifun confident that his company is in safe hands as it enters the next chapter of its story.
With the impending expansion project very much a major priority for the near future, the Founder also points to the possibility of sister firm Starzs Investments Company Limited developing its own global trading fleet with an emphasis on crude affreightment.
This move would strengthen Nigeria’s overall shipping stature, and Ogbeifun is confident regarding the development of the sector in years to come, both at sea and inland.
He concludes: “The maritime environment in Nigeria will continue to be a veritable medium of transportation, global commerce, resource exploitation and recreation, and will remain relevant for the economic prosperity and development because of its abundant mineral resources and huge marine ecosystem.
“Her unique location in Western Africa, bordering the Gulf of Guinea between Benin and Cameroon, along with having the second longest length of waterways in Africa, creates huge opportunities for inland transportation.
“Nigeria has an inland waterways spanning around 8,600 kilometres, including Rivers Niger, Benue, Cross River, Ogun, Escravos and smaller rivers and creeks, backed up by an extensive coastline of about 800 kilometres.
“This elicits a variety of investment potentials cutting across mining, manufacturing and services industries, and of course the shipping elements required for these explorations.”