By Stella Okocha
The Nigerian seafarers also known as Merchant Navy personnel have called for adequate recognition and inclusion in making key decisions that affect maritime development in Nigeria.
This call was made by Nigerian seafarers who spoke at an event held in Lagos on Monday to celebrate 2017 World Seafarers Day which comes up on 25th of June every year.
Speaking at the event, Capt Segun Enitan, convener of the event said the theme of this year’s event tagged, “Seafarers Matters ” is important in Nigeria at a time like this when seafarers have been relegated to the background by heads of maritime agencies when it comes to decision-making in the sector.
The event which took place at Federal College of Fisheries and Marine Technology (FCFMT) Victoria Island, Lagos converged over 100 seafarers, Master Mariners, the press and many others.
Capt. Segun revealed that converging the event was like an open battle, but said they were ready for it because the challenges facing seafarers in the course of discharging their duty are numerous; ranging from lack of health insurance policy, to discrimination on board, lack of proper identification, poor numeration, huge problem of unemployment, no adequate uniform scheme etc.
He complained that the foreign seafarers have dominated the Nigerian territorial waters, leaving many Nigerian seafarers jobless.
“The unemployment rate of seafarers in Nigeria has forced seafarers to receive and accept ridiculous contract agreements from ship owners. You see a white man with the same certificate with a Nigerian being paid over a 100% increase in wages compared to what is giving to a Nigeria seafarer in Nigeria territorial waters.
“Ship owners are interested in the state of your health before you board their ship, but nobody is interested in what happens to you afterwards. Our life is not insured in anyway. Many seafarers have been jailed for crimes committed by the ship owners. Some have been killed on board and nobody cares.
“The domination of white seafarers in our waters have made our seafarers jobless. So they must leave our waters for us. Our associations and unions have not lived up to our expectation concerning our welfare. They are only interested in the dues we pay and nothing more.
“A seafarer cannot wear his or her uniform outside the shores for fear of been beating or harassed by the Nigerian Navy. So this is why we are giving those in authority 30days to implement most of the legal rights of the seafarers or else we will take further actions.
Among the dignitaries invited was Capt. Godswill Ombo (Rtd). He highlighted the challenges of the seafarers in the maritime sector to include poor maritime security from the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
He said NIMASA as a body has failed because 70% of their staffs are not maritime professionals and so they cannot handle the job effectively due to lack of coherent maritime and strategic policies.
He added that the maritime security is concerned with the prevention of intentional damages, and so the organization must know what happens at sea through their Maritime Domain Awareness Censors to be able to handle whatever comes through the sea; and if these gadgets don’t function well, then anything can come into the country.
“Despite the private maritime security agencies, there’s still no policy. Maritime crimes start from the shore and 90% of the products used in Nigeria comes through the sea; so if we don’t get it right, the maritime industry would be in coma.
“NIMASA cannot fulfill her responsibilities by remaining at shore. They must go to the sea, patrol the harbors, buy boats and provide ship for seafarers to train with. There is a ship wasting at the Marina while seafarers are crying for ship. I don’t care who owns the ship but it is on our territorial waters and it should be used. The whole world will laugh at us if that ship sinks”, Ombo stated.
Another Master Mariner Capt. Alfred Oluwasegun Oniye, stipulated that the NSDP seafarers training organized by NIMASA was a pure waste of resources which would have been channeled to equip the maritime academies in Nigeria.
He added that NIMASA and the other associations affiliated with the seafarers have failed in the discharge of their duties, and that he is ready for open debate from any of the agencies to substantiate his claim.
He also admonished seafarers to carry out their duties with diligence and urged them not to be afraid of wearing their uniform any where they go once they have a certified certificate to back up their actions.
“The Merchant Navy is a formation. It is the job of the union to check the legality of the members and also protect their rights. The Nigerian Navy will only have problems with fake Merchants Navy that puts on uniforms to perpetrate crime, Capt Alfred posited.