The Rise, Fall and Liquidation of Africa's Pioneer Carriers. Nigerian National Shipping Line and Black Star Line

Doctoral Thesis / Dissertation, 2015

329 Pages, Grade: 5


Table of Contents



Table of Contents

List of Tables

List of Figures

List of Maps

List of Abbreviations

Chapter 1: Introduction: Rationale for State Merchant Fleet Development in West Africa

Chapter 2: Shipping Trade in West Africa during Pre-Colonial and Colonial Times

Chapter 3: Formation and Administration of BSL and NNSL versus Shipping Lines of Advanced Maritime Nations

Chapter 4: Comparative Analysis of the Operations of the BSL and the NNSL

Chapter 5: Flags in Distress: The Problems of the BSL and the NNSL Compared

Chapter 6: Liquidation of the BSL and the NNSL

Chapter 7: Summary, Conclusion and Recommendations

Appendix 1: NNSL Liquidation Exercise in Germany
Appendix 2: NNSL Liquidation Exercise inBelgium
Appendix 3: NNSL Liquidation Exercise in France
Appendix 4: NNSL Liquidation Exercise in UK
Appendix 5: Submission of Draft Final Report on the Liquidation of NNSL




To my family and the Glory of God.


A work of this magnitude usually demands the hard work and support of many friends to accomplish. I have benefitted from the kind contribution of efforts by many people in Nigeria and overseas during the course of this work. In Nigeria, the academic and non-academic staff of the Department of History and Strategic Studies, University of Lagos, were most helpful to see me through the PhD research which gave rise to this work. I wish to thank my lead supervisor, Prof. Ayodeji Olukoju, for his generous provision of ideas, directions, books, papers, and most importantly, corrections of the work. His inputs were invaluable in getting my work properly anchored both as a contribution to the existing literature in the field and fresh insight into sections of the field that were formerly virgin or uncharted. I also thank Prof. David Aworawo, my second supervisor, who constantly put in unstinting efforts to advise and coordinate the progress of the research academically and administratively. He was particularly helpful to steer me wisely during difficult stages of the work.

Many others in the Department also made useful contributions as I ploughed through course work and research to berth at the final jetty of the degree. I have to heartily thank Prof. O. A. Adeboye, the Head of Department; Dr. Tunde Oduwobi, Associate Prof. Ademola Adeleke, Prof. Akinyeye, the Dean of Arts; Prof. R. T. Akinyele; Dr. Paul Osifodurin; Assoc. Prof. G. N. Onyekpe; Dr. Omon Osiki, and the rest of the Departmental staff. In various ways, their kind gifts of books, ideas, advice and diverse assistance facilitated my work greatly, for which I remain highly indebted and grateful to them all.

My thanks also go to Prof. Cyril Emordi of the Department of History and International Studies, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma Edo State, Nigeria, who read the work as an external examiner and made incisive and helpful contributions and criticisms. Professor Adebayo Lawal was my internal examiner whose friendly disposition assisted me greatly to navigate the contours of the research within the department. Professor Saawua Gabriel Nyityo of the Department of History, Benue State University and Associate Professor Dele Adeoti of the Department of History and International Studies, Lagos State University, provided steady mentoring and encouragement as I ploughed through the work and discussed it whenever called upon to do so. I thank them all heartily.

I also wish to thank many of my interviewees who freely gave their time and energy to plan the interviews and sit through them. They volunteered a treasure trove of useful information, which gave much-needed flesh, as reference sources, to my work. In some cases, they also furnished me rare books, materials, articles and guidance on the direction for further inquiry. The staff of the defunct shipping lines furnished the greatest sources of information for my work. I thank especially the staff of the NNSL who sat down for interviews and provided books, magazines and data on the activities of the company. They include Mr. Gerald N. Chidi, Captain Cosmas Niagwan, Mr. E. A. Adeniyi, Mr. Paul Gbana, Mr. A. R. Ahutu, Mr. Ikemefuna Azubuike, Captain Francis Ebong, Captain Agbohe, Captain Francis Kponu, Engineer C.I.U. Ibia, Captain Okoh Awuletey, Engineer Richard Owolabi, Engineer Bob Alfa, Mr. D.O. Sowande, Mr. William Agoha, Mr. Isaac T. Bezi, Dr. Uchenna Okore and Alhaji G.B. Liman of the former National Maritime Authority. Others such as Captain S.A. Omoteso gave standing or telephone interviews about their career apart from earlier interactions published elsewhere. I thank them all deeply for contributing to the history of the NNSL.

In Ghana, I also benefitted highly from the assistance of some Ghanaian friends and interviewees in the course of my work. Many of them worked for the defunct Black Star Line or associated companies and organizations. In this regard, I have to thank Mr. Ben Owusu Mensah who aided my first research trip and even subsequent ones, to Accra and Tema and arranged many of the interviews. He first introduced me to Dr. Asoma Abu Banda who interacted with me during many meetings at his Accra office and encouraged me with down-to-earth interviews of his vast experiences in African maritime trading. I also thank staffs of the defunct Black Star Line who received me in their homes and offices and provided much encouragement through interviews, research materials and leads. They include Engineer Seth Kugblenu, Captain Robert K. Fiawoo, Captain Dick Gbesemete, Mr. George Bekia, Engineer Emmanuel Tamakloe, Mr. Kwasi Misah, and Mr. Eric Ofosu of the Ghana Trade Union Congress. Mr. Misah presented himself for interviews on two separate occasions and assisted me with old copies of Ocean Star magazine which contained highly informative materials. I must also thank Mr. Richard Nana Akufo of the Divestiture Implementation Committee (DIC) who met with me during the various research trips and assisted my work greatly with interviews.

Others who interacted kindly with me and discussed my work with interest include Prof. Nicholas White of Liverpool John Moore University and Reverend Ian Morris, a Liverpudlian researcher of many disciplines. We spent some days together at Liverpool Maritime Museum and Archive while engaged in our various research interests. I am also grateful to a host of other interviewees; a partial list of these can be found at the bibliography.

I must also thank my immediate family members who endured the periods of my physical absence when I was engaged in research tours or other related engagements during various stages of the work. May God bless them richly and reward their understanding and maturity.


This book is a comparative analysis of the circumstances which led to the founding, operation, fall and liquidation of Ghana's Black Star Line (BSL) and the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL). The carriers emerged during the decolonization era when nationalist leaders in Nigeria and Ghana rallied to establish a supportive economic base for the desired flag independence; some analysts have categorized the shipping lines as examples of economic nationalism. The present work therefore is an interrogation of the success or otherwise of such policies in Africa which, in addition, aids the pedagogical understanding of typical liquidation processes of failed state-owned shipping lines in the continent.

The Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) was established in 1959 and the Black Star Line (BSL) in 1957. Their founding aims were to mitigate incessant freight rate hikes, arrest capital flight, earn foreign exchange, train their citizens in seafaring and boost their national prestige abroad. However, the capital-intensive ventures were hinged on the goodwill of foreign technical partners, Elder Dempster Line, Palm Line and Zim Israel Navigation Company of Haifa, who agreed to train the West Africans in shipping technology and ship management during the gestation period of the joint ventures. Both the technical partners and the new shipping lines were simultaneously co-members of the West African Line Conference (WALCON) and fellow competitors along the Dakar-Doula maritime corridor.

Prior to the end of the joint venture agreements in the early 1960s, NNSL and BSL passed into the hands of indigenous managers and although they acquired fleets of ocean going vessels, the carriers fell into hard times. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, many ships of both shipping lines were repeatedly arrested in European ports for commercial debts and drug trafficking. During the first and second quarters of 1986, for example, six NNSL ships were seized, following court orders, in Liverpool, London and Rouen in the AFEA Line $10.2m demurrage case which led to the sack of four NNSL directors. The Nigerian government loaned the company N70m to clear the accumulated debts. By 1993, NNSL's fresh pile of overseas debt led to further ship arrests and another round of federal government's cash injection of $56m. Also, five BSL ships were arrested in European ports between 1981 and 1983 due to commercial debts. They were subsequently sold to pay off the debts.

The two carriers became liquidated in 1995 and 1998, respectively, largely forcing the two countries to revert to net-importers of shipping services contrary to their initial zeal in economic nationalism. The inherent capital flight from this reliance on foreign shipping services is huge, with Nigeria paying an estimated $5bn annually on freight bills since the mid-1990s. Using a mix of primary and secondary sources, the study conducted research in Lagos, Abuja, Calabar, Port Harcourt, Oron, Eket, Accra, Tema, Nungua, London and Liverpool to query the collapse of the carriers. It was found that problems such as the lack of technical knowhow, mismanagement, improper and corrupt interferences by government bureaucrats as well as fraudulent work ethics were compounded by strong foreign competition and weak adaptation to technological changes to push the carriers into receivership. Moreover, the wholesale reliance on foreign technical partnership bespeaks a helpless ambivalence with the so-called dependency syndrome which plausibly catalyzed a weak succession by indigenous managers before term, signposting the eventual ill-fate.

In sum, the study's postmortem on the liquidation of BSL and NNSL discourages state merchant fleet development and operation with the compelling conclusion that for West Africa, the best chances of fruitful participation in future sea trade would be secured through regional joint venture coastal shipping businesses managed by the private sector, such as the NEXIM FEWACCI Sea Link Project. Originally submitted as a Ph.D. dissertation to the Department of History and Strategic Studies, University of Lagos, the study is being published as a critical intervention in the ongoing debate on refloating another national carrier in Nigeria for which the Government recently made commitments to a foreign carrier to act as a technical partner.

Edmund M. Chilaka

Lagos 2019

List of Tables

Table 1.0: Comparative Freight Rates Applied in UK/West Africa and Other Trading Areas of the World (1900-1906)

Table 2.0: Comparative Table of the Quantities and Value of the Principal Articles of Export for the Gold Coast, 1912 and 1913

Table 3.1: Organizational Structure of NNSL from 1987

Table 3.2: The Fleet of Palm Line at its Formation in 1949

Table 4.1: Owned Fleet of Black Star Line - Acquired from 1961­1969

Table 4.2: Ghana direction of trade, 1900-1960

Table 4.3: Nigerian Seaborne Trade (Tonnes) 1955 to 1985

Table 4.4: Showing the Trained Marine Personnel of NNSL as of 1992

Table 4.5: Typical Merchant Navy Hierarchy

Table 4.6: NNSL Foreign Exchange Earnings between 1975-1982

Table 4.7: Volume of Nigeria's Cargo Throughput 1999-2009

Table 4.8: Showing the Old and New Vessels of NNSL

Table 4.9: Particulars of Ships Owned by NNSL as of December 1989

Table 4.10: Showing NNSL Evacuation of Illegal Aliens

Table 4.11: Showing Ajaokuta Special Project Cargoes Russian Run by NNSL

Table 4.12: NNSL Share in Nigeria's Overseas Trading Transactions by Merchant Shipping between 1982-1989

Table 5.1: Showing NNSL's Debts to Local Creditors as at 1989

Table 5.2: Showing NNSL's List of Debtors as at 1989

Table 5.3: NNSL History of Ship Arrests, Detentions and Other incidents

Table 5.4: BSL's History of Ship Arrests, Detentions, Incidents and Accidents

Table 6. 1: Summary of Auction Sale of FixedAssets in Nigeria

Table 6.2: Summary of Auction Sale of NNSL Fixed Assets in Germany

Table 6.3: Summary of Auction Sale of NNSL Fixed Assets in UK

Table 6.4: Unresolved Issues in NNSL Liquidation Exercise June 1999

List of Figures

Figure 2.0: Stowage Plan of the British Slave Ship Brookes

List of Maps

Map 1.1: Ports and Inland Jetties of the West and Central African Shipping Range

List of Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Introduction: Rationale for State Merchant Fleet Development in West Africa

A number of newly-independent countries of West and Central Africa, including Ghana and Nigeria, established national shipping lines in the late 1950s and 1960s as part of economic strategy to create employment, earn foreign exchange, and attract technology transfer to industrialize their economies. They were also motivated by national pride to show their flags around the world. As at 1980, Nigeria had 27 ships, Ghana, 16 and Cote d'Ivoire 15 in a market which grew to 120 ships belonging to 40 African and foreign carriers; half of the tonnage belonged to African states.1 At the same time, six major shipping conferences, namely Continent-West Africa Conference (COWAC), Mediterranean Europe-West Africa Conference (MEWAC), United Kingdom-West Africa Joint Service (UKWAL), Continental Europe-West Africa Lines Conference (CEWAL), America-West Africa Freight Conference (AWAFC) and Far East-West Africa Conference (FEWAC) operated in the sub-region.2 Other competitors were non­conference lines such as Maersk Line, Transmar, Grimaldi, O T Africa Line, G + C Africa Line, Nile Dutch, Rhein Mass und See (RMS) and Deep Sea Shipping, the major owners of the high-yielding container and ro-ro vessels.

Of the 120 ships in use, there were 29 general cargo ships, 50 multi­purpose and semi-container ships, three lighters-carriers, 21 container ships and 17 Ro-Ro vessels.3 The West African fleets were mainly general cargo and multi-purpose/semi-container ships. The total volume of African maritime trade from the 1950s up to the dawn of political independence was small, barely 5 per cent of world total, but the freight component of goods prices was the highest in the world at 12.90% as against the global average of 5.24%.4 This was blamed on the poor maritime and road transport infrastructures in Africa. Moreover, the continent's geographical location at the periphery of the industrial centres of North America, Europe and the Asia Pacific Rim was deemed a logistical disadvantage. Nevertheless, the new leaders of Africa thought that the maritime sector was a vantage ground because ocean shipping provided an outlet to the world, a lucrative opportunity to the global market where their exports, predominantly raw materials, could be converted into tangible foreign exchange and potentials for building the modern industrial society they had promised their electorates.

Historical Background: Ghana and Nigeria

The major focus of this study, that is, Ghana and Nigeria, have various similarities and differences. They are multi-ethnic societies, with Ghana having a population of 25.9 million and land mass of 227,540 square kilometers while Nigeria's population is 173.6 million, with a land mass of 910,770 square kilometres, according to the World Bank.5 During the period covered by this study, they were mainly exporters of agricultural raw materials, forest products and minerals such as cocoa, coffee, palm produce, groundnut, rubber, timber, aluminum, gold, coal, tin and crude oil. Their imports were mainly the manufactures of Europe such as processed food, cement, corrugated iron sheets, bicycles, clothing and textiles, farming implements, salt, sugar, wheat and grains. The urgency to participate in sea trade was all too evident in the two countries. According to Robert Fiawoo, Ghana's Black Star Line (BSL) was formed so hurriedly that President Kwame Nkrumah's private yacht was the only available training ship for the young nation.6 Similarly, the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) was formed even before independence in 1960, following popular clamour by nationalist leaders that a national carrier was a priority for economic wellbeing of the new nation.7 Moreover, African seamen on board foreign ships suffered the effects of colour bar. Thus, they were quickly set up in a haste that revealed other motives, such as mitigating the unfavourable regime of high freight rates, which the dominant European shipping conferences forced on the African markets throughout the pre-colonial and colonial periods.

Table 1: Comparative Freight Rates applied in UK/West Africa and other Trading Areas of the World (1900 - 1906)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: P. N. Davies, The Trade Makers: Elder Dempster in West Africa 1872­1972, (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1973), 154.

The stated justification for this regime of freight rates included the steaming distance to West Africa and the undeveloped nature of port and cargo handling facilities in the region. The latter understandably caused costly port delays. However, the two countries, where the politics of independence and new-found partisan activities were heady, seemed undaunted by the challenges. The Convention Peoples Party (CPP) manifesto in 1953 proposed the formation of a Gold Coast Shipping Company and mandated the Gold Coast Cocoa Marketing Board to form it, while the Nigerian Produce Marketing Board spear-headed the incorporation of the Nigerian National Line (as the NNSL was initially called), as the major shareholder, on behalf of Nigeria.8 The pioneer liners in the trade, notably Woermann Line and Elder Dempster, had covered the route for liner shipping since the late 1840s, with stops at wharves, beach heads and surf ports from Senegal down to the Congo River and destinations in-between. This and other factors, such as access to the Atlantic Ocean and the endowment of many inland rivers and lakes encouraged West African countries to form the national shipping lines.

Map 1.1: Ports and Inland Jetties for the West and Central African Shipping Route

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: Retrieved from on November 3, 2010.

Emulation of Traditional Maritime Nations

Moreover, African leaders saw the prosperous business which European lines such as Elder Dempster, Hoegh Line, Woermann Line and Palm Line made out of liner and tramp shipping on the West African route; a business which by the 1950s had lasted one hundred years and survived two world wars. Therefore, maritime trade perceptibly offered opportunities for wealth creation, to check capital flight and enhance balance of payment, to train their citizens in new skills and for the diversification of the work force, all in a bid to uplift living standards for Africa's rising population of 178 million at the time.9 After independence, the littoral states formed the Ministerial Committee of West and Central Africa States on Maritime Transport (MINCONMAR) in 1975 with the objective of harmonising and modernising the maritime transport policies of member states to achieve regional integration. In 1999, the organisation was reformed and its name changed to Maritime Organization of West and Central Africa (MOWCA) with headquarters in Ivory Coast.10

However, the national carriers soon began to grapple with financial mismanagement, ship maintenance problems, bureaucracy from the supervisory ministries, indiscipline and corruption, among others. They also faced reduced cargo volumes due to the global recession of the 1980s and could not upgrade to modern ships designed for fuel efficiency and economic speed.11 The introduction of containerization was another technological game changer, which left the African fleets behind as their general cargo ships had provision for only few containers. In 1990, following a complaint brought by non-conference members in the Europe- West Africa trade, the European Union imposed fines of ECU5,000; FF105 million and ECU10.1 million in a series of punitive measures against Secretama, the Bollore Group and members of the European Shipowners' Committee respectively, for taking part in bilateral cargo allocation agreements between France and eleven member states of MINCONMAR contrary to the Treaty of Rome.12 These measures sounded the death knell of the UNCTAD's 40-40-20 code of conduct for liner conferences which had hitherto provided the African carriers a buffer from the fierce competition and dominance of European shipping lines. By the mid-1990s, almost all the national carriers were too distressed to be salvaged. The BSL and the NNSL were liquidated, while the rest also became dormant, leaving their national economies exposed, once again, without national tonnage and at the mercy of foreign ship owners. Whereas the NNSL was fully liquidated in 1995, the completion of BSL's liquidation process was suspended in 1997 when proceeds from the auction of its assets failed to pay off all the creditors.13 The rest were told to wait for further inflow into the liquidation account.

In summary, although BSL and NNSL were formed to actualise dreams of economic nationalism, they became distressed as state-owned enterprises despite the availability of a huge shipping market and the promulgation of favourable laws created to enable their success. In retrospect, the study seeks to analyze the factors which accounted for the mass failure of West Africa's national carriers in a market whose fundamentals still supported the trade of their competitors? What made recovery impossible or why was lost ground seemingly permanently lost? A school of thought posits the existence of peculiarities in the socio-economic set up of African nations, which hinder the long-term success of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) such as those in ocean shipping, coastal and cabotage trades. However, the failure of SOEs in other climes negates this idea. Moreover, other scholars such as Iheduru, have propounded theories of "late industrialization" and the competition by the traditional maritime nations to explain the difficulties experienced by African and other less developed countries in the quest for maritime development.14 These perspectives form the context of this study and would be interrogated in the examination of the factors responsible for the liquidation of BSL and NNSL and the best way to go forward so that West Africa can own or control its maritime transport industry and avoid capital flight of about $5b in freight bills.15

Concept of the Study

This paper is the outcome of my doctoral thesis which traced the operational activities of the BSL and NNSL at home and overseas and subsequently compared and contrasted their operations to identify similarities and differences in their problems and adopted solutions. The objectives of the study were to trace the process of establishment and subsequent operations of the BSL and the NNSL; to establish whether there were peculiarities in the socio-economic set up of West African states that hindered the long-term success of state-owned enterprises; to identify the operational problems of the BSL and the NNSL and how they were tackled vis-à-vis the peculiarities of their national environments and the challenges posed by their competitors; to compare and contrast their operational history to identify any common trends in their activities; and, consequently, to identify and discuss the prospects of West African states' future maritime development. The concern in some quarters is the possibility that the serial collapse of shipping lines in West Africa is more than a mere coincidence and may signify structural weaknesses inherent in the polity, economy or society. Therefore, a successful study holds promises of wide-ranging significance.

One, it would enrich understanding of the failure of economic nationalism in developing or newly-independent countries. Two, it would also provide insight on the roles played in the two countries by such actors and institutional or social factors as the civil service, partisan politics, ethnicity or military rule in the performance of SOEs which compete against entrenched foreign rivals such as the traditional maritime nations (TMNs). Three, the research enables a comparison between Nigeria and Ghana, on the one hand, and between them and the traditional maritime nations, on the other, in their ocean shipping experiences. For example, in such a routine activity as in naming ships, which, for the TMNs is perfunctory and mainly reflective of company stock ownership, in NNSL, the first ships were named after ethnic personalities while BSL named them after rivers and lakes. Again, such demonstrations of Africa's Big-Man syndrome as when "Osagyefo", Kwame Nkrumah, had the entire passenger accommodation aboard Mv Benya River"replaced by a special presidential suite, complete with office, entrance hall and illuminated cabinets for the display of ceremonial regalia"16 is rare amongst carriers from the TMNs and was not seen in Nigeria as well. Four, the study provides a gauge of the improvements in intra-regional trade vis-à-vis ECOWAS regional integration policies and MOWCA's objectives of harmonizing maritime transport policies. More importantly, the work provides maritime practitioners and policymakers viable options for future participation of West African countries in ocean shipping. In sum, the last point is the real challenge which also leaves a gap in the extant literature, that is, a holistic study about the possibilities of post-liquidation re-engagement of West Africa's ship owners and operators in international shipping trade. Without the latter, domiciliation of invisible earnings from sea trade, capital flight mitigation and broadening the base for employment as advised by development partners and the debt-weary OECD and global North lenders cannot take place (UNCTAD/ALDC/AFRICA/2016).

Ocean Shipping and Industrial Development in Africa: Politics or Practicality

The participation of African countries in international shipping has enjoyed comparatively scantier mention than other transportation issues on the continent. In fact, Munro argued that "Africa's comparative underdevelopment in maritime economics and technology has found expression in an underdeveloped maritime history."17 Despite the huge investments by many of her coastal states to buy ships and run shipping lines, studies on West African shipping lines and their operations are few and far between. Nevertheless, as the following review of relevant literature indicates, the subject holds steady interest for the traditional maritime nations and international development scholars. For the former, their vested interests in market shares in the region leave them no option whereas, for the latter, the significant cost of shipping services for their growth as developing nations makes the subject compulsive. Thus, Ghana's and Nigeria's early venture into economic nationalism in the maritime sub-sector has generated some debate among scholars. There are various schools of thought, depending on the authors' adopted world views.

At independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s, ocean shipping was the most advanced engineering technology project the sub-Saharan African nations strove to master - a people that never had deep-sea engineering culture prior to the contact with the Europeans. This was a major factor in the downfall of the shipping lines. However, of the existing literature, European writers have written substantial accounts of the activities of pioneer European shipping lines and traders which had dominated the trade in the region since the mid-19th century. These include, Hans H. Hermann and Bernt Federau, Woermann-Linie and West Africa 1849-1974 (1974); Roger Kohn, Palm Line: The Coming of Age 1949-1970 (1970); P.N. Davies, The Trade Makers, Elder Dempster in West Africa 1852-1972 (1973); Young T. Rex, West African Agent, A British Coaster's Anglo-French Log (1943); and John Goble, Palm Oil and Small Chop (2011). These studies, especially the first three, chronicled details of the trade of the "Coast", as they styled West Africa, from the corporate point of view, with renditions of how the lines got involved in the trade, the change that led to the separation of trading from shipping, the goods carried through the years, how they fared during the two World Wars, how they made the transition from colonial shipping to post-colonial, the entrance of the new national shipping lines of West Africa and the formation of the conference lines, among other activities. The accounts generally furnish useful background information on the subject.

Young and Goble, especially, documented their personal experiences on the coast. The former gave a blow-by-blow account of the European population of three hundred in Ivory Coast around the mid-1930s and how they carried on the life of ‘a coaster', who he defined as: whose days are spent in the sweltering heat toil of African commerce, securing many kinds of native produce for European use, and providing, in return, a wide range of manufactured goods for the enrichment of the natives of Africa.18

In securing the native produce, as he put it, many Africans were employed and, in fact, by this means, the training of the first Africans in modern seafaring began and culminated in the participation of African national carriers in ocean shipping.19 Goble, in Palm Oil and Small Chop, recounted his days on board many vessels trading to West Africa, including the NNSL. His portrayal of work experience alongside Nigerians was less than flattering for all the misdemeanors which he listed, including crew trading, lethargy, indiscipline of sea staff and unwarranted delays at Nigerian ports by crews who had vested interests in staying longer in port for various personal reasons, a run on the ships' stores whenever they were in Nigerian ports by ‘Big Men' from ashore, using the ships to serve the private cargo interests of influential Nigerians, unpaid salaries.20 Relying on his personal observations of port conditions in West Africa, especially the chaotic Nigerian port congestion of the 1970s, Goble concluded that Africa's leaders had wasted the years of political independence and caused disenchantment amongst the populace across the continent. Thus, while some of these writers make references to the formation and certain operational aspects of the BSL and the NNSL, their accounts are far from empirical studies; they are more like travelogues which, although based mainly on personal observations (whether true or factual), left much gaps in verifiable chronology and details.

Another category of writers on the subject have published works based on historical research methodology. This includes Charlotte Leubuscher, Okechukwu C. Iheduru, Ayodeji Olukoju, Robert G. Greenhill and lately, Lyn Schler. Olukoju penned some of the most incisive analysis of the colonial and post-colonial history of maritime transport in Nigeria and its linkages with other significant countries such as Japan and the United States of America. Such studies include: "A ‘Truly Nigerian Project?' The Politics of the Establishment of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL), 1957-1959" (2003); "The Making of an "Expensive Port:" Shipping Lines, Government and Port Tariffs in Lagos, 1917-1949" (1994); "The Maritime Trade of Lagos during the First World War" (1996); The Liverpool of West Africa: The Dynamics and Impact of Maritime Trade in Lagos, 1900-1950, and "Economic Nationalism and Decolonization: West Africa in Comparative Perspective" (2010). Tracing the cacophonous ethnic politics of the 1950s and 1960s, Olukoju, in "A ‘Truly Nigerian Project?' The Politics of the Establishment of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) , 1957-1959", distilled the various arguments, moves and interests of politicians from the Northern, Eastern and Western Regions, on the one hand, and the foreign technical partners (Elder Dempster Line and Palm Line) and the incorporation of a £2 million company, on the other, which eventuated in the formation of the NNSL. In " The Making of An Expensive Port: Shipping Lines, Government and Port Tariffs in Lagos, 1917-1949 ", he followed up with a discussion of the huge financial outlays by the colonial government, which transformed the navigational and harbour facilities of the Lagos ports system to an effective state but ended up hiking port charges to the status of the ".most expensive port in the world" (as argued by the shipping lines), to which the ".Nigerian treasurer replied that: Harbours cost money."21 In these studies, one could see the outlines of a developing dependent maritime industry whose operational foundations were laid in colonial policies and verbiage that ultimately affected the fortunes of the NNSL and other indigenous carriers in the postcolonial dispensation.

In "Economic Nationalism and Decolonization: West Africa in Comparative Perspective", Olukoju dwelt on the same theme with Greenhill whose study on "Economic Nationalism in the Developing World: The Case of Maritime Transport after World War II" (2006) examined the participation of the state in shipping business in South Korea, China, Sri Lanka and the West African countries. While Olukoju focused on the subject from the perspective of West Africa's decolonisation efforts and how the groundswell of dissatisfaction with the status quo led to the formation of state-owned shipping lines, Greenhill summarised the skewed success of all such efforts, which had to require direct governmental intervention in the marketplace to prop up what, ordinarily, should be laissez faire commercial activities. Overall, however, whereas their foci covered the foundation and a general postmortem of the era of indigenous ocean shipping in Nigeria my scope is a complete history of both carriers.

Leubuscher in The West African Shipping Trade, 1909-1959 (1963) also took up the theme of laissez faire economics, especially how limitations were placed against free trade in West African shipping by the entrenched hegemony of mainly Western European shipping lines and the shipping conferences whose activities hedged the growth and success of the BSL and the NNSL, in particular. This helped the study by revealing the international tactics of European shipping lines in their competition with the newly formed West African shipping lines. This focus was continued by Iheduru in The Political Economy of International Shipping in Developing Countries (1996). He studied the shipping conferences cast in the mold of a life-and- death struggle by developing maritime nations (DMNs) to find a foothold in sea trade as against the fierce competition and dominance by the traditional maritime nations (TMNs).22 Iheduru described the intervention by the United Nations to help the DMNs via the UNCTAD Code of Conduct for Liner Conferences against the background of an unfavourable skew in the ownership and control of world shipping tonnage whereby in 1970, the TMNs controlled 83 per cent of world maritime fleet while the DMNs owned only 6.7%, with African countries' fleet at just 0.8% in a global market despite the fact that Africa generated 60% of the total cargo.23 Nevertheless, his case studies of the success of some Asian national carriers and the complete failure of their West African counterparts highlighted the rarity of the Singaporean and South Korean models for breaking the glass ceiling of hegemony in international shipping. The failure of the West African model, for instance, was attributed to “"late industrialization," technological changes, the distribution of power in world shipping, competing nationalism, and the “state-society interaction” in the policy process.24

The nitty-gritty of that international politics in shipping was the kernel of Kingsley E. Usoh's book titled, Freight Charges in West and Central Africa Liner Conference Trade (2003), where he elaborated the arbitrary hikes in freight charges and the extraordinarily high freight rates imposed on the West African market by the European shipping lines since the later part of the 19th century. Grievances and petitions surrounding this experience spurred the setting up of the Royal Commission on Shipping Rings in 1909. In The Politics of Shipping and The Nigerian Economy (2008), Usoh also averred that "[t]he culture of bullying the weak in international trade, politics and shipping is a historical fact" which the creation of the UNCTAD in 1964 went a long way to redress, and noted that ".[i]t was not until the UNCTAD guided her and the other developing nations on the subject that Nigeria promulgated the first Nigerian Shipping Policy."25 Iheduru's and Usoh's analyses of the historical struggles by developing maritime nations (DMNs) against high freight rates showed how international politics affected outcomes in the global marketplace. However, despite Iheduru's high merits in the well-researched topic with global case studies, the author's attribution of a concerted push by the South in the 1970s via the New International Economic Order (NIEO) and the New International Maritime Order (NIMO) to upstage the North's dominance of world shipping carriage seems unsupported by the facts in West Africa. The West African lines still belonged to all the conference lines and worked hand in hand with them to uphold and secure their cargo rights via bilateral trade agreements despite the perceived partiality in cargo allocations in favour of European lines - a situation that was helpless in view of the obvious financial weaknesses of the new nation-states to stand up to the global behemoths.

Furthermore, Lynn Schler took up a study of the labour and welfare perspective in the NNSL story. In her book entitled, Nation on Board, she conducted several interviews in Nigeria and overseas, especially with shore and offshore staffs of the indigenous Nigerian carrier, including Captain Cosmas Niagwan, who ended his career in the organization as the liquidator of the company. By this time, the company's doors had been closed and all staffs retrenched, save a few (less than 10), who were retained to assist the liquidator wind down the remaining administrative and legal processes. Schler focused on “the former Nigerian seamen, officers, seamen's wives, and former NNSL managers.. More than seventy men and women [who] shared their stories, some of which were uplifting, others that were testimonies of abuses suffered and disillusionment”.26 Aside from covering the peculiar domestic problems of West African seamanship, the study also outlined the checkered history of colonial labour policies such as forced labour, the emergence of organized labour unions, the general strike of 1964 and the stark realization that both colonial and post-colonial governments seemed to have differed little in their relationships and policies vis-à-vis Nigerian workers. The sense of alienation created by such realization ramified in various forms of anti-company attitudes and self-help by NNSL (and also BSL) workers, which did not augur well for the health and longevity of the shipping lines.

Other relevant literature on the subject include Peter Newall's "The Rise and Fall of Black Star Line" and Andrew Huckett's "Nigerian National Shipping Line. Part 1 and Part 2."27 They share a commonality of perspective with some other studies on both shipping lines which tried to account for their mid-life crises and events that led to their liquidation. In 1992, the World Bank and MINCONMAR organized a West and Central African shipping round table where thirteen papers were presented, including "Macro-economic Impacts of Maritime Transport on African Economies", "Structural Evolution of Maritime Transport", and "Maritime Transport Policy".28 The authors examined the performances of the national shipping lines of the sub-regions against the background of constraints that hindered their successful development. Their analyses were apt and backed by large volumes of operational data, which were useful to this study. Nevertheless, in retrospect, the presentations can be termed postmortem examinations of cadavers over which much nostalgia is being shown: in fact, latter-day attempts at the resuscitation of the NNSL have been made at various times since 1995 although the balance of international feeling on such a project always leaves the promoters at the short end of the stick. There are some who feel that international court cases could arise by creditors whom the liquidator paid less than 50p on the pound based on a plea of scarcity of funds to make a full restitution.

Yet, other categories of literature on the subject include participant observers, mainly chief executives and employees of the BSL and the NNSL, whose writings provided insight into the daily workings of the companies and how they coped with governmental interventions. Lawan Gwadabe, an army colonel in active service who was appointed to the managing director position of NNSL in 1986 bared his mind on the situation of the carrier. In "Shipping in Nigeria, Past, Present and Future Trends", he canvassed for more governmental support for NNSL and pushed for its ships to be allowed to lift crude oil, ".knowing fully (sic) well that 100 ships may not be enough to cover Nigeria's 40 per cent of sea-borne trade."29 This was a riposte to critics who faulted the constant begging for subvention by NNSL officials. On his part, one-time managing director of BSL, Seth Kugblenu, in "Ghana Seafaring Industries",30 blamed the poor fortunes of the carrier on its takeover by unqualified hands appointed by the government. Gerald Chidi, a career NNSL employee who succeeded Lawan Gwadabe as managing director in a submission titled, "Nigerian National Shipping Line Ltd - The Beginning and the End",31 argued that the lack of profitability or longevity by the shipping line was entrenched due to other objectives, which ruling governments forced upon the management of the carrier. These disruptive objectives included the use of NNSL ships without payment by the Federal Government and the clog on its operations by bureaucratic waiting games and ministerial directives handed down in binding governmentese which, in rival successful shipping lines of the advanced nations have no place at all. Other insightful studies along this line include: James Tachie-Menson, "The Black Star Line of Ghana from 1957 to 1997", 32 Isiaku A.R. Ahutu, "Demise of Nigerian National Shipping Line: Implications for the National Economy"33 and "Survey into the Problems of the Nigerian Shipping Lines, Final Report".34 Although these studies furnish useful operations data, information and some technical details about the subject, none engaged in the comparative stance or the wider scope of the present study which examined how the carriers managed the totality of the natural and social endowments found in their socio-political and maritime environments from the beginning to the end.

Theoretical and Analytical Framework

Two theories are useful for understanding and analyzing the subject of this study. They are dependency theory and “the politics of the belly” hypothesis. Dependency theory was advanced first by Hans Singer and Raul Prebisch in 1949. Other writers such as Samir Amin, Claude Ake, Andre Gunder Frank and Walter Rodney thereafter popularized it in works that focused on the development problems of new nations, adding some Marxist perspectives.35 As a theory, dependency analyses the concept of unequal exchange which arose from a manipulation of global commerce by the industrialized nations for their benefit. This is typified by Adam Smith's vent-for-surplus theory which states that surplus productivity in the advanced economies are vented off to overseas markets to overcome demand shortfalls in the producing country. Ultimately, dependent societies at the receiving end were prone to exploitation. Furthermore, dependency theorists argue that European merchants short-changed African and other developing economies by under­paying them for agricultural and forest products. It has, therefore, been used to explain poverty and under-development in African and South American nations and parts of Asia. The theory argued that “...resources flow from a "periphery" of poor and underdeveloped states to a "core" of wealthy states, enriching the latter at the expense of the former. [and] .poor states are impoverished and rich ones enriched by the way poor states are integrated into the "world system."36

Dependency theory was a reaction to the initial Western apologia for the poverty of African and Third World societies, called the "modernization theory". The latter argued that all societies passed through the African and Third World situation of under-development and gradual development, through the processes of investment, technology transfer and closer integration to the production centres of the industrialised nations.37 Contrarily, dependency theorists countered that the continued process of exploitation and unequal exchange in trade impoverished developing societies. They, therefore, called for some levels of protectionism to protect developing economies from the rampaging competition and domination of global commerce by multinational mega firms from the industrialised countries. In addition, the Marxist perspective aligned with dependency theory in that dialectical materialism, a core concept in Marxism, was shown to be operative when capitalism sought foreign outlets through colonialism. Along this line, European capitalists, the bourgeoisie, exported their surplus wealth to the colonies through mercantilism, to seek new grounds for the exploitation of foreign proletariats such as the African farmers, for example, who were charged by colonial task masters to produce ever-increasing quantities of raw materials to satisfy the factories and industries of imperialist Europe at oligopolistic prices that never compensated the former to the point of prosperity.38

With regard to the present study, the relationship between the West African states, their former colonial masters, and the rest of the industrialised nations of the world, depicted a sorry state of unequal exchange in goods and services. For example, West African states depended on the West for shipping services, for ships, for shipmasters and managers (at the formative stage during the late 1950s and early 1960s), for ship repairs and dry-docking, for cargo administration and consolidation, and worst of all, in the determination of freight rates. Increasingly, the proceeds from exports of raw materials continued to dwindle while the outflow of foreign exchange to the West for imports continued to increase. Gwadabe put it succinctly when he identified the "trade in those days from West Africa, [as] basically the carriage of raw materials like timber products, cocoa, peanuts, palm produce, hides and skins, . which in most cases came back as imports into various West African countries in form of furniture, shoes, margarine, cocoa beverages, etc.”39 The African society was used as a dumping ground as noted by a colonial coaster's log of trading at a European superstore at Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast. He observed that, “paid in cash for their produce, the native population spent most of it in the trading stores , purchasing from a comprehensive assortment of manufactured goods which ranged from iron cooking pots to lengths of gaily coloured Lancashire cloth, designed in wide variety expressly for the West African market”.40 In the shipping trade, the dependency situation was widespread as the African national carriers could not stand on their own but joined the shipping conferences which were later criticized for maintaining two rule books for the allocation of high-freighted cargoes to European lines and low-priced ones to African lines, as well as fixing oppressive freight rates.41

The other theory that aids an understanding of the present analysis is “the politics of the belly” propounded by Bayart. Using this theory, Bayart analysed the personalisation of the state in Africa by the post-colonial African rulers, for private, family and clan/ethnic interests to the disadvantage of the rest of society. This syndrome involved the “heads of networks” capturing, accumulating and partially re-distributing the wealth of the nation as well as a “struggle for influence” by using all means at the disposal of public officers to build up “.prestige and authority at the expense of others, in contempt of truth and justice”.42 Accordingly, “[p]ositions won in combat, even if relatively subordinate, permit a minimal accumulation of wealth which can then be redistributed according to the dictates of ‘strategies of offering' in order to satisfy and increase one's clientele”.43 Thus, allusions of ‘corruption' and ‘ethnic conflicts' were nothing more than “politics of the belly” as corroborated by Richard Joseph's study on ‘prebendal politics' in Nigeria, where it was normal for political parties to boldly promise ‘I chop you chop' in their manifestoes.44

Bayart showed how “the politics of the belly” pervaded the African political process after decolonisation. In Ivory Coast in 1985, for example, poison, invisible forces and the buying up of entire petrol reserves in a constituency were used to deprive one's rivals “for the sake of the simple hope of winning a seat in an Assembly.” 45 In Senegal in 1963, the process of party membership recruitment was commercialised and the membership cards sold far above the printed price so as to establish advantage in favour of particular candidates. He cited similar examples of “the politics of the belly” all over Africa sequel to the post­colonial political jostling for power as also evinced in the writings of Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thongio and Leopold Sedar Senghor. In the end, the African politicians' pursuit of power and influence was consummated in society by the political “heads of networks” such as Presidents, Prime Ministers and Ministers handpicking managers of SOEs, for example, who rode roughshod over company rules and regulations. For example, the Idowu Commission of Inquiry into Ghana's Cocoa Purchasing Company (CPC) in 1956 revealed shocking details of how the Convention Peoples Party (CPP) top shots appointed their cronies into CPC's accounts department who committed fraud with impunity, as also happened in Black Star Line where similar malfeasances were committed by public officers who enjoyed the protection of state officials.46

The theory could also be applied to the situation in the NNSL in 1968 when Nelson Oyesiku, the first Nigerian chief executive of the company, was implicated in undisclosed dealings with the German shipyard which constructed the four River Class vessels, for which he was fired.47 Moreover, extraordinary demands on the shipyard by Nigerians led to the last ship's delivery being delayed and some accessories not installed as the shipyard sought to recoup “extra-contractual expenses incurred by NNSL managers visiting Germany”48 The corruption engendered by the “politics of the belly” trickled down the rank and file of the BSL and the NNSL employees. Crew trading, for example, remained a hydra-headed problem which sapped the carriers of profits and market confidence while their workers rationalized their nefarious activities by allusion to the Cameroonian proverb that ‘goats eat where they are tethered'. Even family members of influential public officials featured prominently in asset­stripping of SOEs. For example, from available credible source, when NNSL put five of its ships on the market in 1993, Mrs. Mariam Abacha and her sons wanted the managing director of the shipping line to sell them the vessels as scraps even though they were worth the tidy sum of over $16m.49 The managing director, Bob Alfa, later linked his subsequent troubles with the authorities to his refusal to bulge. Thus, the two theoretical frameworks, ‘dependency' and the ‘politics of the belly' largely aid in tangible explanation of the socio-economic and political contradictions which worked against the success and longevity of the two shipping lines.


As stated above, I adopted a comparative historical methodology, which is thematically exploratory and analytical. The relevant primary and secondary data collected were analysed and interpreted against the background of the economic, political and geographical dimensions of the two nation-states. The primary sources included oral information (structured interviews) and archival materials, official and company documents, newspaper reports, books and logs from private holdings as well as conference materials. I worked with many interviewees who were based in different cities such as Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Oron, Calabar and Eket. I travelled a couple of times to Ghana to see other interviewees based at Accra, Tema and Nungua. My research materials were also sourced from libraries and archives in Lagos, Accra, London and Liverpool. Furthermore, the methodology compared the various aspects of the operations of the shipping lines such as manpower training and utilization, operations and traffic management, ship acquisition and maintenance and administrative procedures, among others. Between May 24 and May 27, 2013, at Liverpool, where the BSL and the NNSL maintained operational offices throughout their existence, I interviewed Nicholas White of Liverpool John Moores University and Rev. Ian Morris, a researcher, as people who have research interest in the area and background information about the carriers and their competitors, Elder Dempster and Palm Line. The research at the Maritime Archives and Library of Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool, provided information on the early operations of the BSL and the NNSL and how the West Africa Line Conference organised its activities. At the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, I consulted their holdings on the records of the incorporation of the NNSL, the joint venture between the BSL and Zim Navigation of Haifa, Israel and their initial operational activities as published in West Africa magazine.

Other interviews conducted in Lagos, Accra and Tema between February 15, 2011 and June 10, 2014 included three former managing directors of the NNSL (Mr. E.A. Adeniyi, Mr. Gerald Chidi and Engr. Bob Alfa); one former managing director of the BSL (Engr Seth Kugblenu), many former master mariners, chief engineers and officers of both carriers, the two liquidators of both companies, Mr. George Bekia (BSL) and Captain Cosmas Niagwan (NNSL), and many other former top officials and ex­employees of both shipping lines. The information and data available to me provided a broad multidisciplinary basis for analyzing, interpreting and presenting the findings as comparable variables in West African shipping. The secondary sources of information included library research in books, dissertations, reports by international organizations, journal articles and magazines. Libraries and archives used in West Africa include University of Lagos Library, the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, University of Legon Accra Library, the Regional Maritime University Nungua Library and the Public Records and Archives Administration Department Accra, Ghana.


1 J. Youmba, "Shipping Services' Supply and Demand in West and Central African States" (paper presented at a roundtable conference on Shipping Services in Western and Central African Countries, Cotonou Benin, 23-26 June 1992), 111.

2 Continent West Africa Conference (COWAC) was divided into North and South and had 33 shipping lines made up of 12 African and 21 European members; MEWAC had 22 shipping lines of which 11 were African and 11 European members; UKWAL comprised 11 shipping lines, seven were African and four were European; CEWAL was made up of eight shipping lines, two African and six European; AWAFC had seven members, three African and four European; and FEWAC had nine shipping lines, four African, three Japanese and two European.

3 Youmba, "Shipping Services...", 111. See also Elder Dempster's “Minutes of Monday Meetings”, 30 September - 4 November, 1957, 43, Liverpool Maritime Museum Archive, UK.

4 1990 UNCTAD Report on International Trade and Development, quoted in K. Lharbi, "External Trade and Maritime Transport in MINCONMAR Economies", paper presented at a roundtable conference on Shipping Services in Western and Central African Countries, Cotonou Benin, 23-26 June 1992, 75.

5 Nigeria is estimated to have more than 300 ethnic groups while Ghana is made up of not less than fifteen ethnic groups. For more information on their political evolution, see F.D. Lugard, The Rise of Our East African Empire (Edinburgh: np, 1983), I.585-587, II.69-75; Lady Lugard, A Tropical Dependency (London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd., 1964), 14-23; W.E.F. Ward, A History of Ghana (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1958), 309. For more on the population and land area of Ghana and Nigeria, see “Ghana: Country at a Glance” and “Nigeria: Country at a Glance” retrieved from and respectively on 17 June 2015.

6 Oral interview with Capt Robert K. Fiawoo, aged 68, retired sailor, Tema, Ghana, 31 October, 2012. For more details of BSL's early operations, see Middle East Record, Vol. 1-5, 1960-70, NB 956/161442, SOAS Library, London.

7 Ayodeji Olukoju, "A ‘Truly Nigerian Project?' The Politics of the Establishment of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) 1957-1959, International Journal of Maritime History 15, no. 1 (June 2003): 69-90.

8 James Tachie-Menson, "The Black Star Line of Ghana from 1957 to 1997", (M.A. dissertation, University of Ghana, 2007), 14; see also Andrew Huckett, "Nigerian National Shipping Line. Part 1", Ships in Focus Record 41, November 2008, 20.

9 M. Huchet, "Economic Parameters of Shipping Services Between Europe and West and Central African States" (paper presented at a roundtable conference on Shipping Services in Western and Central African Countries, Cotonou Benin, 23-26 June 1992), 147.

10 For more information on MOWCA, see “Maritime Organisation for West and Central Africa (MOWCA)” retrieved from mowca.aspx on 17 June 2015.

11 Franck Vioules, "Structural Developments in Maritime Transport" (paper presented at a roundtable conference on Shipping Services in Western and Central African Countries, Cotonou Benin, 23-26 June 1992), 243.

12 Kingsley E. Usoh, The Politics of Shipping and the Nigerian Economy (Lagos: Tollbrook Publishers, 2008), 235.

13 Interview with George Bekai, aged 47, legal practitioner, Tema, 2 November, 2012.

14 Okechukwu C Iheduru, The Political Economy of International Shipping in Developing Countries (Newark: University of Delaware, 1996), 44. See also G.B. Kay, The Political Economy of Colonialism in Ghana: A Collection of Documents and Statistics 1900-1960, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) 1972, 342.

15 Crusoe Osagie, “NEXIM, FEWACCI to End Europe's Control of African Shipping”, retrieved from end-europe's-control-of-african-shipping/ 143435/ on 30 March, 2013.

16 Peter Newall, "The Rise and Fall of Black Star Line", Ships in Focus Record 38, (2007): 94.

17 Quoted in Iheduru, The Political, 32.

18 Young, West African Agent, 9.

19 This was started by Elder Dempster Line in various West African countries in the early 1950s when it controlled a very large sphere of the sea trade of the region. According to Dr. Nicholas White, much controversy trailed its activities. Interview of Dr. Nicholas White, aged 46, lecturer, Liverpool, 23 June, 2013; interview of Rev. Ian Morris, aged 62, researcher, Liverpool, 23 June, 2013.

20 John Goble, Palm Oil and Small Chop (Caithness: Whittles Publishing, 2011), 131.

21 Ayodeji Olukoju, "The Making of an "Expensive Port:" Shipping Lines, Government and Port Tariffs in Lagos, 1917-1949" in International Journal of Maritime History 6, no.1 (June 1994): 141-159.

22 Iheduru, The Political, 44.

23 Iheduru, The Political, 22.

24 Iheduru, The Political, 33.

25 Usoh, The Politics of Shipping, 3,8,9.

26 Lynn Schler, Nation on Board: Becoming Nigerian at Sea (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2016), xi.

27 Newall, ‘The Rise', 93; see also Huckett, ‘Nigerian National', 20.

28 They include many papers presented at a MINCONMAR and World Bank- organized round table conference on "Shipping Services in Western and Central African Countries" at Cotonou, Benin Republic from 23-26 June 1992, some of which have been referenced. Others include Olivier Hautin, "Impact of Bulk Maritime Transport on West African Economies"; Honore Paelinck, "Structural Development of Maritime Transports"; Ben Owusu- Mensah, "Structural Development f Maritime Transports and its Effects on Shipping Services on the West African Coast - The African Point of View" and Dimitri Petropoulos "EC Shipping Policy and Trade with West Africa".

29 L. Gwadabe, “Shipping in Nigeria, Past, Present and Future Trends". Colonel Gwadabe was the managing director of NNSL from 1985 to 1987.

30 Seth Kugblenu, "Ghana Seafaring Industries", unpublished work in author's possession. Kugblenu was managing director of BSL from 1983-1987 and submitted this document to the Ghana Government as a way forward for Ghana's Black Star Line, Shipyard and Dry-dock Service and her fishing industry.

31 Gerald N. Chidi, "Nigerian National Shipping Line Ltd - The Beginning and the End", unpublished work in author's possession. Mr Chidi was managing director of NNSL from 1990 to 1992.

32 James Tachie-Menson, "The Black Star Line of Ghana from 1957 to 1997". See also T.E. Anin, Essays on the Political Economy of Ghana (Accra: Selwyn Publishers Ltd), 1991, 148; E. Gyimah-Boadi, “State Enterprises Divestiture: Recent Ghanaian Experiences” in Donald Rothchild (ed.) Ghana: The Political Economy of Recovery (Bouder: Lynne Rienner Publishers), 1991, 194-197.

33 Isiaku A.R. Ahutu, "Demise of Nigerian National Shipping Line: Implications for the National Economy", an unpublished paper, in author's possession.

34 See "Survey into the Problems of the Nigerian Shipping Lines, Final Report" (a report submitted by Ogar Consults to the National Maritime Authority, Lagos, 1 August 2000).

35 Vincent Ferraro, "Dependency Theory: An Introduction" in The Development Economics Reader, ed. Giorgio Secondi, London: Routledge, 2008, 58-64 retrieved from https://www. htm on 1 October, 2014.

36 Ferraro, ‘Dependency'.

37 Ferraro, ‘Dependency'.

38 Rick Kuhn, “Henryk Grossman: Capitalist Expansion and Imperialism”, International Socialist Review Issue 56, November-December 2007, retrieved from on 18 June 2015.

39 L. Gwadabe, "Shipping in Nigeria, Past, Present and Future Trends" in Ola Adegbeyeni and O.J. Rapu, (eds.) Transport and National Development in Nigeria (Lagos: Federal Ministry of Transport, 1990), 324.

40 Young, West African, 9.

41 Minutes of the 44th Meeting of the Board of Directors of the Nigerian National Shipping Line Limited Held at Development House, 21 Wharf Road, Apapa on Friday 1st May 1970 at 11 A.M., p.3; see also Patrick Sanwo, “Shipping Lines Impose 30% Surcharge”, Daily Times, 14 November, 1974, 1; “Surcharge Bid Shelved”, Daily Times, 25 April, 1970, 1.

42 Jean-Francois Bayart, The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly (London and New York: Addison Wesley Longman Limited), 1993, 228.

43 Bayart, The State 232.

44 Bayart, The State, 235; see also Richard A. Joseph, Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria, The Rise and Fall of the Second Republic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 1991, 52.

45 Joseph, Democracy, 231.

46 Report of the Commission of Enquiry into the Affairs of the Cocoa Purchasing Company Ltd, Public Records and Archives Administration Department, Accra, ADM.5/3/102 - 1956, 16; see also Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the General Administration and Operations of the Black Star Line (1970-78), Public Records and Archives Administration Department, Accra, RG8/2/536/1979-1979, 23, 24, 28, 29.

47 Minutes of the 40th Meeting of the Board of Directors of the Nigerian National Shipping Line Limited Held at Development House, 21 Wharf Road, Apapa on Friday 12 August, 1969 at 10 A.M, 12.

48 Andrew Huckett, “Nigerian National Shipping Line Part 2”, Ships in Focus Record 42, March 2009, 95.

49 Interview with Engr Bob Alfa, aged 63, NNSL retiree, Lagos, October 2012.

Shipping Trade in West Africa during Pre-Colonial and Colonial Times

For more than five hundred years from the thirteenth century, the shipping trade in West Africa was based mainly on the carriage of gold, slaves, and, latterly, palm produce. Genoese sailors, as far back as the 1270s, had sailed to the West African coast and reached the Canary Islands, among other endeavours. The Portuguese, however, later pioneered a more successful trading venture which they dominated for over two hundred years before being overtaken by other Europeans, notably the Danes, the English, the French and the Germans.1

Although gold, slaves and palm produce were the major exports from West Africa up to the 19th century, other goods such as peppers, ivory and gum Arabic were constantly being sold to Europeans in addition to ivory spoons, horns, saltcellars, woven mats from Senegambia, and African textiles said to be coveted by European consumers.2 The technological disparity between the two societies was obvious in the stock-in-trade which European traders brought to the market, namely, cotton prints, beads, silk, linen, swords, razors, mirrors, needles, guns and alcohol. The West African market at this early period, on land and at sea, was populated by traders who operated within the geographical limitations. The trade from the north, across the Sahara Desert, was with Arabs, who acted as middlemen for goods from North Africa and Mediterranean Europe. The other trade link was with Europeans who came across the sea, via the Atlantic Ocean. It is the Atlantic pre-colonial and colonial shipping trade that we are concerned with in this chapter.

Pre-colonial Shipping Trade in West Africa

The initial Portuguese foray south west of the Atlantic Ocean was prompted by certain factors, namely, to sidestep the Muslim merchants who were the middlemen for the trade in North Africa; to contact the Negroes of West Africa and secure the source of much-needed gold and gold dust which had been proven to be in the region; and, strategically, to convert West Africans to Christianity and make them allies against Islamic expansionism from North Africa. The voyages championed by Prince Henry of Portugal (popularly called Henry the Navigator), gained royal support in the additional hope of finding the legendary priest-king, Prester John, whom Europeans had believed reigned in a rich and powerful empire somewhere in the African interior. His acquaintance and possible support were deemed strategic to rout the Muslims of North Africa.3 However, all that resulted was more Portuguese trade, especially in slaves. Prester John was not found; neither did evangelism flourish during the era. Quite significantly, the emergent European trade with West Africa permanently overshadowed the trans-Saharan trade. It was maritime in nature and fully dominated by the Europeans who established an exploitative commercial relationship with the Africans, lasting many centuries.

European monopoly of the shipping trade of pre-colonial West Africa arose from their exclusive mastery of ocean navigation. Although their trading relations with North Africa, and indirectly with West Africa across the Sahara Desert, was evident as far back as the eight century, Fage argued that for the peoples of West Africa's coastlands, the forest was “a barrier to the penetration of foreign traders.the coastal peoples produced little other than what was needed to satisfy their.simple requirements”.4 Thus, West African coastal peoples had little or no deep-sea navigation experience. Conversely, European explorers, sailors and traders had, for centuries, been navigating the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea in search of “spices, sugar, silk, precious stones, ivory and other rare commodities, which Europe did not produce itself”, a maritime trading experience they eventually put to good use in the Atlantic trade.5 In fact, by the 1700s, when the slave trade was in full swing, the wind-filled masts of sailing boats at sea had become recognisable icons of European power and prosperity. They bridged the gap between demand and supply of slave labour from Africa to plantations in the Americas. They were also the conveyors of plantation-produced luxuries for European consumers such as sugar, rum and coffee from the Caribbean; tobacco from Virginia and Maryland; rice, indigo and naval stores from South Carolina; and mahogany from Jamaica and Central America, all produced through slave labour.6

Chronologically, the trade in slaves superseded that of gold and gold dust although all were maritime in nature. The slave trade lasted nearly four hundred years before it was abolished in the early 1800s after an estimated thirty-five million people from Africa had been sold into bondage in North and South America and the Caribbean Islands, with countless others killed and maimed during slave raids in the African hinterland.7 This inglorious business occupies a prominent place in the annals of shipping history and European sea traders were the major carriers of the era. The economy of the Atlantic slave trade was such that the plantation produce of the Americas were shipped to the distilleries, refineries and factories of Europe and North America for further processing or consumption in much the same way that the colonists of Africa two hundred years later exploited her natural resources and raw materials for the benefit of Europe's manufacturing sectors. Thus, shipping across the Atlantic Ocean was a common denominator of these trading eras in West Africa. Whereas the products were shipped in barrels, hogsheads, sacks or bales, slave ships were also constantly re-designed to keep abreast with challenges of the trade.

Nevertheless, the transport of slaves was entirely scandalous and beyond the pale of human maltreatment. It was called the Triangular Trade because of its round voyage connection with the three continents of Africa, the Americas and Europe. Slaves were loaded in West African slave ports bound for the Americas. With the proceeds of slaves, the merchants purchased molasses, cotton, tobacco or other commodities produced by slaves in the plantations. Thereafter, they sailed to various European ports to supply the factories of Britain and mainland Europe the raw materials needed to fuel the textile mills, sugar factories and other machinery of the Industrial Revolution. The six- to eight-week voyage from Africa to the New World, called the Middle Passage, became notorious for its inhuman conditions described as one of the worst attributes of the entire slave trade era.

Slaves were locked in the lower deck, binding fifty or sixty men to the ship and to one another. whenthe doctor ventured below deck to attend to the sick, he was forced to step on chained bodies, as slaves covered the entire floor. He reported that the slaves were fed “chiefly of horse beans, boiled to the consistency of a pulp; of boiled yams and rice, and sometimes of a small quantity of beef and pork.” Depending on the weather, twice a day. slaves were allowed above decks for food and exercise. Even so, mortality rates were generally about 15 per cent and could range as high as one-third of the slaves during the Middle Passage.8

Just as modern maritime trade is an organised industry with many stakeholders and service providers, the slave trade was also organised around established companies and accepted procedures among the traders. Prominent bankers, insurers, politicians and even the royal houses of Europe became involved in the slave trade at various times during its era. Some of the well- known state-sponsored slave traders include the Dutch East India Company, Royal Africa Company of Britain, the English royal family, two mayors of Liverpool and a host of other European national corporations.9 In Africa, slaves were procured by the chiefs and hawked by their middlemen to European slavers based at the coasts.

The crews of slave ships, some of who were blacks at the later end of the trade, were described as “only the roughest and most desperate [of] men” and “during the century before abolition in 1807 about a third of a million sailors worked on British slave ships.”10 This was the only era in the history of maritime trade when the cargo was human, unwilling, angry, mostly chained and with the likeliest tendency to rebel, kill the crew or commit suicide at any available opportunity during the sea voyage. (See Figure 2.0 for the stowage plan of a typical British slave ship.) From available evidence, “There were revolts on one in ten transatlantic slave voyages, mostly while the ship was still close to the African coast.”11 The same ships that conveyed slaves to the Americas and shipped luxuries to European consumers were subsequently loaded at European ports with manufactured goods, namely, “metal goods from Birmingham and Sheffield, textiles from Lancashire, equipment, firearms and .French wines and brandies”, bound for Africa.12 Many sources concur that the slave trade prospered Europe's major ports beyond anything they had experienced, either previously or till date.13

Figure 2.1: The Stowage Plan of the British Slave Ship Brookes

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, Slavery and the Making of America (Oxford: University Press, 2005), 25.

The most prominent slave trade ports in Europe and the Americas were London, Bristol and Liverpool in the UK; Nantes and Bordeaux in France; Newport (Rhode Island) USA; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. African slave ports, on the other hand, although the primary points of departure for millions of transatlantic slaves, were not highly reckoned with because they were not really developed harbours. This forced the slave ships to spend months “plying up and down the African coast...slowly filling with Africans” who were bartered for the various goods imported from Europe.14 A picture of sea trade on the Gambia river during the early 1700s was painted by Mungo Park who travelled through the area during 1895 and 1896. The account showed the sparseness of ship calls to that part of West Africa at this time: only two or three ships a year from England, with few French and Danish ships and US experimental vessels, unlike the busier commerce taking place further down the Atlantic shoreline. He added that the earliest European establishment on the Gambia river was a Portuguese factory although they were succeeded by the Dutch, French and English who dominated the location later. However, these were mainly trading concerns, which consolidated trade goods and posed as general agents for managing the trade in slaves and other articles.15

Their trading stations were outfitted with full complements of officers, staff and resources for service provision. As at 1730, for example, the Royal African Company had a “James Factory”, which consisted of “a governor, deputy governor, two other principal officers, eight factors, 13 writers, twenty inferior attendants and tradesmen, a company of soldiers and 32 Negro servants besides shops, shallops, and boats with their crews, and there were no less than 8 subordinate factories in other parts of the river.”16 European exports to the Gambia were chiefly firearms, and ammunition, iron-ware, spirituous liquors, tobacco, cotton caps, a small quantity of broad cloth and a few manufactured goods from Manchester, glass beads, amber, and other trifles for which are taken in exchange slaves, gold dust, ivory, bees wax and hides.17 Despite the flourish in the slave trade in some other parts of the sub-region, the maritime trade here appeared much smaller being dependent on the infrequent availability of ships for slaves, passengers and other cargoes.

As Park, who was anxious to return to England after his hazardous trek through the African interior, reported:


1. For more discussion on early European trade and exploration activities in West Africa see J. D. Fage, Introduction to the History of West Africa 3rd Edition (Cambridge: University Press, 1965), 43ff; F. K. Buah, West Africa and Europe, (London and Basingstoke: Macmillan Education Ltd, 1967), 44ff.

2. James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, Slavery and the Making of America (Oxford: University Press, 2005), 14;

3. A. Fajana and B.J. Briggs, Nigeria in History (Lagos: Longman Nigeria Ltd, 1964), 71-72.

4. J. D. Fage, Introduction to the History of West Africa, 42, 48.

5. Ibid., 40.

6. James Walvin, The Slave Trade (London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 2011), 70.

7. F.K. Buah, Modern World History Since 1750 (London: Macmillan and Co. Ltd, 1970), 11.

8. James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, Slavery and the Making of America, 25-26. See Fig. 2.0 for a typical stowage plan for most transatlantic slave voyages.

9. Ibid., 14-15; see also James Walvin, The Slave Trade, 41-48.

10. Walvin, The Slave Trade, 57.

11. National Museums Liverpool, Transatlantic Slavery: An Introduction, (Liverpool: University Press, 2010), 38ff. For more details of the Middle Passage and its horrors, see also James Walvin, The Slave Trade, 43ff; Thomas Clarkson, An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species 1760-1846, (Google E-Book); James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, Slavery and the Making of America, 22ff.

12. Walvin, The Slave Trade, 48.

13. National Museums Liverpool, Transatlantic Slavery: An Introduction, 25ff.

14. Walvin, The Slave Trade, 55.

15. Mungo Park, Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa … in 1795, 1796 and 1997… (E-Book retrieved from books on October 1, 2013.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.


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The Rise, Fall and Liquidation of Africa's Pioneer Carriers. Nigerian National Shipping Line and Black Star Line
University of Lagos  (Department of History and Strategic Studies)
Economic History
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Nigerian National Shipping Line, Black Star Line, NNSL, BSL, The Russian Run, Akosombo Dam, Peugeot Automobile Nigeria, Apapa Port, Tin Can Island Port, Tema Port, West African Shipping Trade, Elder Dempster, Zim Navigation of Haifa, Dakar Luanda Range, Kwame Nkrumah, UKWAL, COWAC, Liverpool, Hamburg, Colonial Shipping
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Edmund Chilaka (Author), 2015, The Rise, Fall and Liquidation of Africa's Pioneer Carriers. Nigerian National Shipping Line and Black Star Line, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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