Encouraging indigenous seafarers
Seafarers are vital to the maritime industry. This is because their training, which is long and rigorous, enables them to master navigation, cargo work and shipping. Also, any mistake made by them leads to loss of lives or property.
It is for these and more that the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA)’s committment to their competency and dedication took the centre stage at a well-attended event organised last week by the agency as part of activities marking Seafarers’ Day.
But the President, Nigerian Shipowners Association (NISA), Mr. Aminu Umar, who chaired the session, stated why ship owners preferred to employ foreign crew and pay them higher wages than their Nigerian counterpart.
Umar argued that most Nigerian seafarers were complacent, indisciplined and not dedicated, compared to their foreign counterparts.
Recalling an incident in 2010 when 16 vessels were washed ashore by a storm in Lagos, Aminu, who is the managing director of Sea Transport Services Limited, said the affected vessels were manned 100 per cent by Nigerian crew.
“We don’t want you to have this entitlement mentality, whenever you are employed by a ship owner, you are selling yourself first. You need to market yourself, and how do you do this? It is by being dedicated and committed.
“In shipping, there is no room for mistakes, if you make a mistake, somebody would die, or you cause pollution. This means you are bankrupting the company,” he said.
Other stakeholders believe that advancements in technology and ships gradually moving towards auto piloting could be a threat to seafarers’ job.
But the spokesman for MARPRO, Capt Segun Akanbi, described the comments as sad. He argued that most of the ships that were washed ashore were derelict and had been abandoned because the owners failed to pay their crew. While it might affect the profession in some way, practitioners are optimistic that their years of experience could not be replaced by any machine.
Shipping is vital to economic development. It contributes over 90 per cent to the world’s economy. There are about 51,400 merchant ships worldwide, tranporting goods between places, thereby keeping economies running.
Whether it is oil from the Gulf or iPhones in containers being delivered from one part of the world to another, everything runs round the clock, with precision and diligence that promote businesses.
A former Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and Chairman, Mission to Seafarers (MTS), Chief Adebayo Sarumi, said there was the need for increased welfare for seafarers, urging governments to ensure that interventions got to them.
He said intervention by governments would trickle down and positively impact the men and women who are the fulcrum for global development. “We indeed have much to celebrate. Ordinarily, any occasion to mark the sacrifice of our gallant men and women that ordinarily put their lives on the line for the greater good, is a noble gesture.
“A year ago, however, the world was thrown into confusion with the advent of a sudden and rapidly consuming pandemic. Numerous lives were affected, including seafarers and their families.
“Those of us fortunate enough to tell its tale must appreciate an occasion to relay experiences and reminiscence on account for all the departed, even as we embrace the gift of life.”
But who are those responsible for the robust activities at sea?
While the shipbrokers, the charterers and the owners take care of the financial aspects, seafarers are the ones executing it in real life aspects. The trade is only so good when the product is delivered safe and promptly to the receiver, and seafarers work Sundays or public holidays, notwithstanding. Seafarers do not understand the concept, neither could they be allowed to do so because someone, somewhere, is in need of a product that must be delivered clean.
Also, nations are fuelled by gas and the shortage of oil supply, because of a stalled ship, can cause a very big crisis.
The sea and winds, they argued, do not follow the predicted patterns, adding that the human angle to shipping would always be invaluable.
However, as critical as seafarers are to the economy, the practitioners are often treated shabbily by ship owners who mostly employ them. There is a gradual shift, however, as concerned stakeholders make moves to ensure adequate welfare for seafarers.
To ensure sanity in the relationship between ship owners and seafarers, the Federal Government has threatened to sanction ship owners who default in the implementation of the contributory pension scheme for seafarers.
NIMASA has embarked on the periodic review of its training policies and guidelines to make them more relevant and functional.
The agency is also evaluating training interventions to know whether or not the objectives had been achieved to improve them, among others.
To improve seafarers’ welfare, the Federal Government has announced that there are policies in the pipeline to improve the quality of training and certification, as well as remuneration for seafarers.
NIMASA Director-General, Bashir Jamoh, made this known in Lagos.
He said: “Policies are in the pipeline to improve the quality of training and certificates we give to the seafarers. We are taking steps to standardise the curriculum of our training institutions in line with international standards. We are also working on increasing the remuneration of our seafarers. These policies would be announced as soon as we complete work on them.”
He said seafarers were among the most courageous people in the world, stressing that the theme of this year’s celebration was a “testament to the fact that the world cannot do without seafarers. Seafarers hold the key to humanity’s survival on a day-to-day basis. They held the key to our wellbeing during the first and second wave of COVID-19 period’’.
“The seafarers are unsung heroes, they are also our invisible heroes. We see their handwork every day and everywhere in agricultural machinery, the food we eat, and the unbroken run of the manufacturing base, despite the global lockdown,” he said.
He spoke on the challenges facing seafarers amid the coronavirus pandemic, including stringent work conditions in some countries, movement restrictions, lockdowns, crew change difficulties, fatigue and seasickness, and disruption of contracts.
He continued: “As a regulator, we have taken steps to alleviate the suffering of the seafarers. NIMASA was among the first government agencies to declare seafarers as being on essential duty, and we published this in a marine notice. We also issued COVID-19 guidelines to incoming ships towards ensuring that there is no importation of the virus by sea.
“NIMASA was the first in West Africa to issue a COVID-19 marine notice. We challenged ship-owners and employers of seafarers to take proactive measures to lessen the pains of seafarers. We also walked in lockstep with the IMO to tailor all our marine notices in the early period of COVID-19 towards supporting the extension of the validity of seafarers’ certificates, crew change, guidelines, procedure and their designation as essential workers.”
According to Jamoh, “it is said that a good sailor weathers the storm he cannot avoid; COVID-19 was a storm seafarers couldn’t avoid. As tried and tested seamen and women, our seafarers have continued to weather this storm for us. We celebrate you today. Nigeria thanks you, the world appreciates you, NIMASA as a regulator, will never abandon you. We will support you all the way.”
Meanwhile, seafarers have decried what they described as marginalisation by foreign shipping lines and Nigeria LNG Limited in preference for their counterpart in other countries with less qualification.
This, they said, was despite the massive investment in seafarers’ development by the Federal Government championed by NIMASA.
According to them, the discrimination, formerly popular among foreign companies, has become evident in Nigeria with several indigenous companies, including the Nigeria LNG Limited (NLNG), a liquefied natural gas (LNG) producing company where the Federal Government is a shareholder.
A seafarer, Daniel Ikueyemi, said the poor feedback mechanism at NIMASA has deprived the agency of the true impact of the investment in seafarers’ development.
Ikueyemi lamented that the Certificates of Competence (CoC) of most seafarers trained under the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) would soon expire, “yet many have no resources to renew it because they never had an opportunity of going on board vessels even for a day.”
“NLNG rejects seafarers with Nigerian CoCs. NLNG is a company in which the nation has shares. If the certificate doesn’t have value in our country and organisations like NLNG reject it, there is no need talking about acceptability of the certificate around the globe. There is no point wasting our time on that,” he said.
Ikueyemi proposed that NIMASA creates a seafarers’ desk to receive valuable information and experiences of seafarers, especially on practices onboard vessels.
According to him, this can be an avenue to enable the agency to resolve the numerous problems associated with seafaring, as “NIMASA would better capture seafarers’ experiences”.
His words: “NIMASA shouldn’t allow their resources to be wasted because that is what happens when the seafarers aren’t engaged. The duration of CoC is five years and it becomes useless if one doesn’t utilise it during that time frame to boost the economy.”