Need to address the plight of Nigerian seafarers

Millions of people around the world celebrated the Day of the Seafarer on 25 June, under the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) campaign theme, #AtSeaForAll.

Across social media, the message that seafarers are indispensable to the world gained momentum in 165 countries across all the continents. A Twitter Thunderclap reached nearly 13 million people. IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim celebrated the day at a special Day of the Seafarer event in Manila, Philippines, where he hailed seafarers whom he describes as the “beating heart” of the shipping world and who quietly, mostly unnoticed, keep the wheels of the world in motion.

More than 12,000 people also took part in a fun, interactive quiz or used the online “Photo Wall’ created by IMO.

IMO also created videos, including the Day of the Seafarer message and a series of short interviews.

In Nigeria, officials of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) along with other maritime industry stakeholders and some seafarers gathered to pay tribute to the hard work and bravery of sailors worldwide.

The work of a seafarer is one of the most difficult, dangerous and challenging jobs in the world today. Away from family and friends for many months at a time, in multinational crews with others who may not speak the same language, seafaring can be a tough, lonely and hazardous career.

In 2010, the Diplomatic Conference which met in Manila to adopt milestone revisions to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (the STCW Convention) and its associated Code, also agreed that the unique contribution made by seafarers from all over the world to international seaborne trade, the world economy and civil society as a whole, should be marked annually with a Day of the Seafarer. The date chosen was 25 June, the day on which the amendments were formally adopted.

The campaign objectives are to increase awareness among the general public of the indispensable services seafarers render to international seaborne trade, the world economy and society at large; and to redouble efforts at the regulatory level to create a better, safer and more secure world in which seafarers operate.

In addition to the natural hazard of the job, Nigerian seafarers face several other challenges including incomplete training, joblessness, poor remuneration and stagnation.

Many of those who attended the Day of Seafarer event organised by NIMASA are not even seafarers yet in the true sense as they have been stuck mid-way in their studies because they have been unable to acquire relevant seagoing experience to obtain the requisite Certificate of Competency.

A good number of Nigerian cadets especially those of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron spend a long time in the labour market. This problem is compounded by the fact that they are unable to acquire seagoing experience on board ships.

Different Ministers of Transport have promised to address this issue. Such promises were made once a year usually during the annual passing out parade of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron. Curiously, such promises end on the parade ground.

The few fortunate Nigerian seafarers that have jobs are poorly remunerated while the unemployed are in the majority.

While their counterparts elsewhere are handsomely rewarded to make up for the high risks they face in the course of doing their jobs, Nigerian seafarers are languishing in abject poverty, unemployment and penury. Because of the condition they find themselves, some have become willing tools in the hands of criminal elements who unleash mayhem and engage in illegalities on the nation’s waters.

While Nigeria’s ratification of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006 has been greeted with so much euphoria, it may not hold much promise for seafarers who have not completed their trainings or who have no jobs. It protects only those in employment. It does not guarantee anyone job or sea-time experience.

The Federal Government, through its relevant agencies, must now go beyond the rhetoric and address the plight of would-be and qualified seafarers.

Nigerian shipping companies should supported to thrive so that they in turn will provide employment to Nigerian seafarers.

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