As Nigerian seafarers join the rest of the world to mark 2017 World Seafarers’ Day fresh indications have shown that no fewer than 23 Nigerian seafarers are languishing at Ikoyi prison for offences allegedly committed by their employers and ship charterers.
Platform Reporters witnessed some seafarers who gathered in Lagos on Monday to celebrate the day of the seafarers with the theme; “Seafarers Matter” have called on the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the various unions to address issues of ‘slave contract’ offered Nigerian seafarers by their employers.
Speaking at the occasion, Convener of the event; Capt Segun Akanbi said that 23 Seafarers are currently languishing at the Ikoyi prison because the contract of their employment was not well spelt out. The seafarers lament constant harassment from Nigerian Navy officers due to influx of fake seafarers’ identity cards and increased number of fake merchant navy officers.
Capt Akanbi revealed that the 23 Seafarers in prison are from four ships and they were arrested for improper documentation, ship hijack and sundry offences.
Giving a breakdown of the arrests, he said a vessel; MT Good Success owned by Hepa Global Limited belonging to Capt. Banjo Agbebi was arrested February 19th 2014 and the seven seafarers on board were sentenced to 10 years imprisonment by Federal High Court in Lagos.
Another Ship: PSV Deby owned by Banquet Chamber, belonging to Mr. John Mba was arrested on September 2015; he added that nine seafarers on board are awaiting trials because they were unable to meet bail conditions.
Speaking further, he added that the owners of the ship have already met their own bail terms and have been released, but the crew are still in prison.
According to him, other seafarers who are in jail are: those on board MT Asterix, arrested in March 2015 and sentenced to five years imprisonment by Justice Buba ibrahim with an option of N20 million bail, and MT Dejicun arrested March 2016 owned by one Mr Mustapha Gani.
He alleged that in most of the cases, the ship owners’ lawyer only spoke for his client while the crew of the ship were sentenced to prison.
Giving further insight in to the travails of the sailors, he disclosed that, “the second ship crew were hijacked, the pirates took their ship to go and hijack another vessel to take fuel, this is how the crew were arrested. They are awaiting trial for the past one and half year now.
The other group has been there for about two years now, unable to meet their bail condition. The ship owner and the charterer met theirs and they left.
“The associations are not doing anything about it and NIMASA as a body is not interfering. The lawyers also do not really understand what bunkering is all about” he said.
The seafarers called on NIMASA to enforce a standard lifetime insurance scheme for seafarers on the agency’s data base. They also called for a minimum standard for seafarers’ welfare that shipping companies would not go below.
“Due to the rate of unemployment, the manning agents take advantage of the seafarers; many of the contracts signed are just a slave trade agreement, it is so horrible, but we don’t have a choice because we are jobless. The terms also depend on nationality and colour” Capt Alabi lamented.
He also called for a unified body for seafarers’ representation, saying that a single body should speak for them as against representation from various unions.
On his part, Vice Chairman of Shipping Zonal Council of Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transporters Senior Staff Association, Capt Segun Oniye assured that the association is working to address issues of fake identity cards and influx of fake merchant navy officers.
Speaking on constant harassment of Merchant navy officers by the Nigerian Navy, Capt Oniye said that merchant navy officers are not begging for recognition, because they are already recognised by law. He said that “the Nigerian Navy can have a problem with fake merchant navy officers, but it is not their responsibility to checkmate the illegality and legality of Merchant navy, it is the responsibility of the merchant navy to checkmate their own formation”.
He said that the association is making efforts to sanitize the industry and rid it of fake merchant navy officers.A
ddressing the seafarers, Oniye said “You must know who you are, if you don’t know who you are, then expect harassment from anywhere, merchant navy personnel is an international person”.
On his own while delivering a paper titled; Maritime Security, Challenges and Prospect, a maritime expert, Rear Admiral Godswill Ombo (rtd) called for a robust maritime policy and domain awareness.
He said that there must be a maritime domain awareness without which there cannot be maritime security. Ombo also said that many of the maritime academies in Nigeria today were established to make quick money and that many do not have the required curriculum and good lecturers to train seafarers.
On provision of sea-time for cadets, he called on Minister of Transportation; Mr Rotimi Amaechi to direct the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to release a vessel; MV Horten at Marina to be used to train cadets in the country.
Ombo said that the vessel was purchased by Global West Vessel Specialist Limited for NIMASA for maritime security but that since the company’s contract was terminated, the vessel has been rotting away at the Marina jetty in Lagos.
According to him, the vessel has room to take up to 135 cadets and can be extended to take up to 150 on-board for training purposes. He said that the Minister should address whatever delay that is making the vessel not to be used and make it operational for the training of cadets.