Sylvanus Obasi with Some seafarers as guests on Star fm during Maritime Platform Radio program on Tuesday
June 25 each year, is a day set aside by United Nations and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to celebrate the contributions of seafarers to global economy. At an event organised on Monday by the Nigerian seafarers to commemorate this year’s occasion, Capt Oluwasegun Enitan in his speech captures the challenges of Nigerian seamen as follow:
Its been a very challenging year for the entire maritime sector all over the world due to the global economic crisis, want to appreciate all Seafarers across the world for the courage and bravery shown amidst the depleting morale.
We want to focus on the Nigerian Seafarers, in order to keep it brief and simple. The Maritime administration have done tremendously well in the past years as regard the position of Nigeria in the world maritime nation. We want to appreciate various achievements from the Hon. Minister of Transportation Dr. Rotimi Ameachi, The Director General of NIMASA Dr. Dakuku Peterside, and every other Team who have kept our maritime sector on the world map.
The uniqueness of the Nigerian Seafarers is that under any condition we deliver our very best, ability to endure the worst case scenario, ability to maintain decorum and sanity under unfriendly circumstances, ability to work with low or No salary, ability to obey orders under an unconducive environment, ability to protect the ship and it’s cargo under equipment failure and so on.
We want to use this medium to present to all parties involve, the various areas which needs attention for the New Seafarers calender year.
1. SEAFARERS HEALTH: The seafarers medical is a very great idea and it has been so effective on the aspect of “Fit to Work” but the question is who cares about “Fitness after work”. Most Seafarer disembark ships at the end of each article or contract unfit due to the working environment and various health interference at sea. That has rendered several Seafarers handicapped and unfit for next job. In the face of this, average Seafarer die of various illness or health cases inherited from the working environment. Someone needs to be held responsible for life after sea.
SOLUTION : Compulsory Lifetime Health Insurance for all Seafarers.
2. EMPLOYMENT: Due to the rate of unemployment, the Manning agencies and shipping companies are taking advantage of jobless Seafarers. Many contract of employment are worse than a slave trade agreement. The contractual terms painfully depends on Nationality and colour. A foreign Seafarers wages triple the wages of a Nigerian Seafarer with the same qualification, in the same company, on the same ship. We have seen where a foreign Ordinary seaman (OS) collects more wages and allowances than a licensed Nigerian officer. Painfully, we pay the same amount in hard currencies for our professional courses and certification. The high level of racism and gender discrimination displayed by indigenous and Nigerian registered companies and manning agencies cannot be overemphasized.
SOLUTION: We demand a template of minimum contract requirement, which all companies most not go below, be drafted by the administration with Seafarers well represented in accordance to international standard of practice (Insurance, Pension, Healthcare package inclusive ) and implemented.
3. SEAFARERS REPRESENTATION: We appreciate the existing structures of the Seafarers association and we thank them for their achievement so far. We understand that Merchant Navy Association represent the Ships officers, while the Maritime Workers Union represent the Ratings and the Master Mariners Association represent the Masters. It’s not such a bad idea, but so far so good, various loopholes have been identified from the existing division and clash of interest.
We are requesting a Unified Seafarers representation that will represent the unique voice of the entire Seafarer in Nigeria. The Ship is one and we share equal risk, We request the leadership of the existing recognized association to meet and come up with a general Muster point with adequate transparency.
4. UNIFORM: Every profession in Nigeria and across the world have their uniform and dress code. We see Seafarers in various countries in their smart uniform and the job look so attractive and beautiful. The morale of a Seaman is doubled when he’s properly dressed and identified. It has been one cases of harassment or the other from the Nigerian Navy which have scared several Seafarer out of their true identity. We are not Soldiers nor in the Nigerian arm forces, we love our civilized profession, it’s beautiful, we are proud to defend the National economy with our skills and professionalism, we are Merchant Navy. We deserve to be treated with respect and honor. Enough is Enough.
SOLUTION: We request all authorities involve to please come to an agreement over this and officially define the Seafarers uniform and identity.
5. MARITIME SECURITY: This has been one major problem from the onset of the maritime sector, everyone already identified it as a problem including the Navy. Few years back, attacks do not exceed 50nm from baseline, but now, it has extend as deep as 150nm. It’s a pity that most hijacks and kidnap at sea do not enjoy publicity like that of land but the truth is attacks happen more frequently than anyone could imagine.
SOLUTION: All authorities involve should step up their game and be more tactical in their approach.
6. CABOTAGE IMPLEMENTATION: The Cabotage have not been very successful since it’s emergence. Our waters are still littered with foreigners of all ranks, The waiver clause is defeating the purpose of its existence. Someone will talk about competency, but I can categorically stand to say the foreigners are not more competent than the Nigerians in any aspect.
SOLUTION: Full implementation of the policy without clause of waiver in our near coastal operations. Any shipping company or flag state who will not accept our Nigeria licence should not operate in our territorial water. Our licence can take care of the west Africa trading area within our territory and beyond, but cases of less qualified expatriates coming to hijack our jobs with purchased licence is unacceptable. The Administration should focus on upgrading our COC without limitation, standardizing our maritime schools, upgrading the officers competency to international standard, Signing MOU with other flag state, waiver clause to be reviewed. Nigeria has qualified and seasoned Seafarers that can take up any position onboard.
SHIPPING COMPANIES: Most companies do not have a strong capital base. They run shipping like a sugarcane business, welfare is close to zero, all they are interested in is profit. Once they get bankrupt they abandon the ship and crew with several months of unpaid salaries. Some of them resolve into illegal operations just to save there falling investment at the peril of the Seafarers. Most of our colleagues have been denied justice, some jailed for as much as 12years based on management misconduct. Which is completely unfair to the Seafarers.
SOLUTION: Implementation of Financial Security Insurance (under MLC amendment) which must cover Seafarers 4month unpaid wages, death or disability entitlement, benefits, and other essential items such as adequate food, water, Medicare and fuel to make ship habitable during the case of bankruptcy and ship abandonment. Any company without this standard insurance in place should not be allowed to trade.
SEA TIME FOR CADETS: The numbers of cadets are fast growing without prospect of Sea time. Students from various institutions graduate with good grades and 5 years after they are still roaming the street in search of sea time. The future of the professional seems uncertain to the prospective Seafarers, NSDP program has only helped to increase the long list of unemployed cadets.
SOLUTION: It’s high time we understand the problem so that we don’t continue to provide a wrong approach. Nigeria has never been short of Cadets, The Nigeria schools are more than capable to give the best of maritime studies, we should rather channel the resources of NSDP to acquire a standard training vessel, that will help to clear the backlog cadets seeking sea time and upgrade our maritime schools to international standard.
The list is endless but we believe if the administration could create a feedback forum with the Seafarers and recognize us as a potential stakeholder, only then can we record a continuous improvement. We believe in the regime of President Muhammad Buhari, the vision and bravery of the honourable Minister of transport, Rt Hon. Rotimi Amaechi and the willingness and open mindedness of The DG NIMASA Dr Dakuku Peterside.
The cases of crime can actually be curbed in our waterways if the Federal government respect the existence of the Nigeria Seafarers. Kindly look into various cases of jailed Seafarers and ensure that justice prevail. We are not asking for too much, all we demand is Recognition and Respect to bring back the prestige which our dear profession deserves.
God bless you, God bless the Federal republic of Nigeria, God bless the Nigeria Seafarers.
SEAFARERS MATTER… YES WE DO.