Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark the Day of the Seafarer on Wednesday last week.
Seafarers are the people without whom food, clothes, gifts, gadgets or even basic needs would not reach our doors. We rely on them every day.
The Day of the Seafarer was first celebrated in 2011, following its establishment by a resolution adopted by the Conference of Parties to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), 1978, held in Manila, Philippines, in June 2010, which adopted major revisions to the STCW Convention and Code.
The Day of the Seafarer has now been included in the annual list of United Nations Observances.
In 2011, the celebration took the form of an online campaign, in which IMO asked everyone to voice their support using social networks to say “Thank you seafarers” on Facebook, via tweets, by posting a video on YouTube, discussing on LinkedIn, or even writing an inspirational blog.
I played an integral part in the maiden celebration in Nigeria. I wan part of a stakeholders committee that organised a rally for the seafarers at Onikan Stadium, Lagos. The rally was well attended with about 1,000 seafarers participating and several stakeholders in attendance. It was a beautiful outing.
The Day of the Seafarer provides an opportunity to pay tribute to the world’s 1.5 million seafarers for the unique and all-too-often overlooked contribution to the well-being of the general public.
By generating interaction on the web about seafarers, the International Maritime Organistion (IMO) aims to show respect, recognition and gratitude to seafarers everywhere.
The universal outreach of social media will raise awareness of the vital role that seafarers play in the world economy and, in many respects, in sustainable development, enabling ships to carry than 90% of world trade safely, efficiently and with minimal impact on the environment.
The Day of the Seafarer is also an opportunity to educate the public about issues facing the modern-day seafarer – issues such as piracy.
In addition to the generic occupational hazards confronting all seafarers the world over, Nigerian seafarers face several other challenges.
Many of them are not employed and except for a few that work with multinational oil companies and the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), those employed are poorly remunerated.
There have been several cases of abandonment of seafarers at sea by their Nigerian employers who owe them months of salary arrears.
Many Nigerian shipping companies are unable to pay their seafarers living wages largely because their ships are not meaningfully engaged. I have heard of an indigenous shipping company that is owing its workers 13 months salary and when they dared to stage a walkout on the vessel, the owner threatened to sack all of them without settling the salary owed them.
Nigerian cadets are also suffering untold hardships. There are well over 5,000 cadets of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron, Akwa Ibom State who are caught in the middle because they have not been able to acquire requisite mandatory sea time experience without which they cannot secure gainful employment or return to school for further studies.
The implication of all of these is that many Nigerian seafarers become willing tools in the hands of criminal elements who use them to steal the nations crude oil, petroleum products and perpetrate heinous crimes against ships plying the nation’s waters.
Beyond the fun fare therefore, the most fitting tribute Nigeria can pay its seafarers is to address the pressing problems. Give them jobs and ensure they are well paid like their peers in other parts of the world. After all, that is what the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006 which has entered into force in Nigeria is all about.
Government should also acquire a training vessel for MAN Oron to address the sea time training gap experienced by cadets over the years.