The quasi-military Nigerian Marine Department was established in 1914 and cooperated with the Royal Navy in capturing Cameroon in the First World War. The Nigerian Navy came into official existence in 1956, staffed by 200 people from the Marine Department, with the tasks of mine-sweeping, ports examination and naval control services. The Nigerian Marine Training School, established in April 1952, provided basic training in seamanship to the Navy, Merchant Navy, Inland Waterways Department and Nigerian Ports Authority. The Nigerian National Shipping Line was established by the Nigerian government in 1959. Despite heavy investment and subsidies, the state-owned company was unable to compete with European lines. Much of the investment went to enriching the political elite.
A 1964 book describes careers in the Nigerian Merchant Navy, which offered apprenticeships for craftsmen and Officer Cadetships for aspirants to become Navigating or Engineering officers. In 1988 the National Maritime Authority granted six Nigerian shipping lines “national carrier” status, including the state-owned Nigerian National Shipping Line, the Nigerian Green Line, Africa Ocean Line, Nigerbras Shipping Line, Brawal Line and the Nigerian South American Line. The NMA had plans to extend this status to more domestic companies so as to reduce control of trade by foreign-owned lines. However, by 1992 foreign shippers were carrying over 80% of cargo. The oil extraction companies ignored rules to use Nigerian ships and instead supplied their own tankers to transport most of the crude to their refineries abroad.
The industry has been represented at international conferences by members of the Merchant Navy Officers’ and Water Transport Senior Staff Association. Thomas Kemewerigha, the national President of this association, described it in a 2010 interview as a trade union organization affiliated with the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and with the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF).