Ship Ownership: A Guide to Acquiring a Ship in Nigeria

Ship Ownership: A Guide to Acquiring a Ship in Nigeria - Olisa Agbakoba Legal (OAL)

In Nigeria, owning a ship can be a profitable venture, whether it is for business uses such as offshore operations, fishing, or transportation. However, navigating the Nigerian ship acquisition process calls for careful attention to operational, financial, and legal factors. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps involved in owning a ship in Nigeria.

Understanding the Legal Framework

It’s important to comprehend Nigeria’s legislative framework controlling maritime activities before taking the plunge into ship ownership. Enforcing maritime regulations and guaranteeing safety and security in Nigerian seas are the responsibilities of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). As a result, it is crucial that you get familiar with NIMASA laws and adherence is necessary to lawfully operating or owning a ship in Nigeria.

Determine Your Purpose

Clearly define the purpose of your ship ownership. Ask yourself if you are acquiring a vessel for commercial activities, such as cargo transportation or offshore oil and gas operations? Or are you interested in recreational boating? Your goal will determine the type and size of ship you should acquire, as well as regulatory requirements and operational considerations.

Conduct Market Research

Research the Nigerian maritime market to understand the demand for various types of vessels and identify potential opportunities. Consider factors such as market trends, competition, and regulatory changes that may impact your decision. Additionally, explore financing options available for ship acquisition, such as bank loans, leasing, or partnerships.

Choose the Right Vessel

Selecting the right vessel is critical to the success of your ship ownership venture. Factors to consider include:

Size and Type: Choose a vessel size and type that aligns with your intended use and operational requirements. Options range from small fishing boats and pleasure crafts to large cargo ships and offshore supply vessels.

Condition: Assess the condition of the vessel, considering factors such as age, maintenance history, and compliance with safety standards. A thorough inspection by qualified marine surveyors is recommended before finalizing the purchase.

Cost: Evaluate the purchase price of the vessel, as well as ongoing operational and maintenance expenses. Factor in additional costs such as insurance, crew salaries, fuel, and port fees.

Register Your Vessel

Once you’ve acquired a ship, you’ll need to register it with the appropriate authorities. Ship registration is managed by NIMASA. Registration involves submitting documentation such as proof of ownership, vessel specifications, and compliance certificates. Ensure that your vessel meets all regulatory requirements for registration before proceeding.

Comprehensive Steps to Ship Registration

Ship registration in Nigeria involves several steps to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and establish legal ownership of the vessel. Here is a detailed guide to the registration process:

Preparation of Documentation: Collate the necessary documentation required for ship registration. This typically includes:

Proof of ownership (such as bill of sale, builder’s certificate, or transfer documents)

Vessel particulars (including name, tonnage, dimensions, and classification)

Certificate of survey and inspection

Evidence of compliance with safety and pollution prevention standards

Proof of payment of relevant fees and taxes

Application Submission: Submit a formal application for ship registration to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). The application should include all required documentation and information about the vessel and its ownership.

Vessel Inspection: Arrange for a thorough inspection of the vessel by qualified marine surveyors accredited by NIMASA. The inspection will assess the vessel’s condition, compliance with safety standards, and suitability for registration.

Payment of Fees: Pay the applicable registration fees and taxes as specified by NIMASA. These fees may vary depending on factors such as vessel size, type, and intended use. Ensure that all fees are paid in full to avoid delays in the registration process.

Issuance of Registration Certificate: Upon satisfactory completion of the inspection and verification of documentation, NIMASA will issue a Certificate of Registration for the vessel. This certificate serves as official proof of the vessel’s registration and ownership in Nigeria.

Placement of Registration Marks: Affix the assigned registration marks (including the vessel’s name, official number, and port of registration) to the vessel in accordance with NIMASA regulations. These marks must be clearly visible and permanently displayed on the vessel’s hull.

Publication of Registration Details: NIMASA may require the publication of registration details in a designated maritime publication or official gazette. This public notice serves to inform stakeholders and interested parties of the vessel’s registration status.

Compliance with Ongoing Requirements: Maintain compliance with ongoing registration requirements, including renewal of registration certificates, updating of vessel particulars, and adherence to safety and operational standards prescribed by NIMASA.

Record Keeping: Keep accurate records of all registration documents, certificates, and correspondence related to the vessel’s registration. These records should be readily accessible for inspection by regulatory authorities and other stakeholders.

Engage Professional Assistance: Consider engaging the services of maritime legal experts or consultants familiar with Nigerian maritime regulations to ensure smooth navigation of the registration process and compliance with all requirements.

By following these comprehensive steps and adhering to regulatory guidelines, ship owners can successfully register their vessels in Nigeria and operate legally within Nigerian waters. Compliance with registration requirements not only establishes legal ownership but also ensures safety, security, and accountability in maritime operations.

Obtain Necessary Licenses and Permits

Depending on the intended use of your vessel, you may need to obtain various operating permits from regulatory authorities. Certain types of vessels, such as passenger ferries or offshore support Vessels, may require specific operating permits based on their intended operations. For example:

Trading License: If your vessel will be engaged in commercial activities such as cargo transportation, you will need to obtain a trading license from NIMASA.

Fishing Permit: For fishing vessels, you will need to obtain a fishing permit from the Nigerian Fisheries Department.

Ensure Compliance with Safety and Environmental Standards

Safety and environmental compliance are paramount in maritime operations. Ensure that your vessel meets all safety standards and regulatory requirements, including those related to navigation equipment, firefighting systems, pollution prevention, and crew training. Non-compliance can result in fines, penalties, or even the suspension of operations.


Becoming a ship owner in Nigeria presents various prospects for business ventures, leisure activities, exploration, and discovering new horizons. Nonetheless, successfully manoeuvring through this process necessitates meticulous preparation, adherence to regulatory protocols, and a comprehensive grasp of the maritime sector. By following the steps outlined in this guide and seeking expert guidance and legal advice when necessary, you can sail on a prosperous voyage as a ship owner in Nigeria.



Cornelius Okey Gabriel