Untold Plights Of Nigerian Seamen – By Engr James Falabi

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In the year 1992 I discharged from a ship in Scotland, then travelled to central London, the first office I visited was the Merchant  Navy Officers Union’s  office in  Layton, I was warmly received and giving all the guideline on where to stay and what to do. Eventually with their help and assistance, l logged at the Seaman’s Mission Guesthouse in east London for six months while preparing for my Certificate of Competence exams.

Class of seafarers

The Maritime Labor Convention tagged MLC 2004 by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is about sailors’ welfare considering the hazardous nature of their assignment and the ongoing exploitation by the ship owners.
Nigeria is one of the signatory to the ratification of this law.

If Nigeria is to fully implement this code, where are the ships and the subsequent seamen employment?  More than eighty percent of Nigerian Sailors are jobless, with employers catching on this trend to exploit the job seekers.

The Role of the Seamen’s Union is to key into this MLC 2004 convention and to balance the inequality between the Nigerian seafarer and the foreign counterpart. A progressive union would find all means to market her members to the International community by interfacing with similar union oversea. There is shortage of qualified marine officers globally and that is a statement of fact.

The first response of Nigerian government to the International Ship and Port Facility Security (I.S.P.S) Code is to set up a body called Presidential Implementation Committee on Maritime Security (PICOMS). Good move, but it failed because the committees are bunch of ignorant retired Navy officers, none of the serving or ex Merchant Navy officer was involved. When you talk about Maritime security you need the intelligence of core professionals in the trade whose activities you are partly trying to protect. Get this clear, there is no successful bridge of security (Piracy, Kidnapping or Vandalism) without the contribution of a professional (ratings, engineer, or Captain).

So if you want to effectively protect Gulf of Guinea you need the full participation of West African Sailors. Nigerian Navy cannot effectively protect Merchant Ships; in the shipping community Nigeria water is classed as high risk zone because of the failures of the Nigerian Navy.

When PICOMS failed NIMASA took over the security administration and they co-opted Nigerian Navy into this assignment, but the marriage did not yield any fruit because NIMASA already has enough worries, the flag administrative roll and the safety roll in compliance to I.M.O standard. This is enough to give the Director General (DG) a sleepless night.

The DG was seen touring the whole of NIMASA’s offices some weeks back, could somebody ask him to tour all our coastal water including creek like that. I can assure you that it is an uphill task and it would end up with negative incidents. NIMASA and Nigerian Navy cannot give the Maritime Security the concentration, professionalism and specializations it deserves.

Hence the need for a separate agency to handle Maritime Security Issues, and am sure the adjudged controversial bill will produce this.  Secure marine environment is crucial to the growth in international investment in that region, even local banks are shying away from maritime investment due to security issues, we are better off commuting Maritime Security to another Agency.

All over the world the Merchant Navy are taking as the fourth arm of the Military providing logistics support to the Navy during the war, but Nigerian factor has relegated laudable profession to the background. The National body the Merchant Navy officers Union under the leadership of Comrade Alalade has completely lost its track and is on stand still making noise on the spot.

It is disheartening to see Comrade Alalade as a blind, uninformed sycophant, being driven by selfishness to break his constituency. I think impeachment would save the union from this myopic character. He wants NIMASA to go on carrying excess luggage and damage all the goods in the process.

Four years ago we struck a franchise deal with a private ship yard in Singapore and we were in the process of fulfilling our own side of the deal when the shipyard back out due to security report about Nigeria. It was so devastating and it took time to come to term with the reality of losing a done deal.

If the Gulf of Guinea is safe and secure the international investors would give us Ships on “Lease to Own” bases with little or no commitment.

Maritime Security Bill is a blessing in disguise, only a mad sailor would kick against it, and I pray such a fellow encounter the Pirate one day. Where is the Nigerian Navy when my friend from South Africa, Engr. Giani’s two legs was condemned by the big boys? Sailors are being kidnapped and ransoms are being paid by the Ship Owners or the Managers on daily bases. There is a specific case where the families of the affected officers have to rally round to safe the Captain and Chief Engineer from the kidnappers den, when the ship owner abandon them to their fate.

I don’t envy my Sailing brothers within West African Coast anymore, because of the security risk involved. Since the Sea is our means livelihood, any time we have an assignment on board, I sort of bid my family farewell because, ones those guys meet you on board anything can happen.
My prayer is for safe and secure marine environment and that God should remove all opposition to this goal.

Engr. James O Falabi (Mtm)
Ojaf Marine Consult Ltd.


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