The burden of Nigerian seafarers

On Tuesday 25th June, 2013, we all gathered again on the occasion of the 3rd Day of the Seafarer event 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.
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) had chosen this year’s theme for the Day of the Seafarer celebration as Faces of the Sea. It was a natural evolution, according to IMO, from last year’s successful theme of It came by sea and I can’t live without it. Fundamentally it moves the theme to bringing the campaign back to the unsung heroes of shipping – the seafarers themselves and literally spotlights the human face of shipping and the sacrifices that seafarers make.
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.
As I sat in the hall gazing at the face of one seaman after the other; I realized that hope is still far off for majority of them.
Many are not even seafarers yet in the true sense as they have been stuck mid-way in their studies because they are unable to acquire relevant seagoing experience to qualify for Certificate of Competency.
To work as a crew member on a commercial vessel, possession of a Certificate of Competency is compulsory.

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. And that is where such promises end. They are more often than not mere political talks.
In fourteen years of reporting the maritime industry, I have not seen any major step taken to address this shortcoming.
The few fortunate Nigerian seafarers that have jobs are poorly remunerated while the unemployed are in the majority.
While their counterparts elsewhere are handsomely paid 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.
I have been a significant part of observing the annual Day of the Seafarer in Nigeria and I am aware that it is the same tale of woes year in year out. Who then is listening? Who will lend a helping hand to these hapless seafarers?

I have heard it said severally that life would have been a lot better for the seafarers if the Joint Maritime Labour Industrial Council (JOMALIC) had not been merged with the defunct National Maritime Authority (NMA) to give birth to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). The argument was that JOMALIC, as an agency of government dedicated to the seafarers and dockworkers’ well being, had a narrow focus whereas NIMASA has a lot of issues contending for its attention. Perhaps so. Perhaps not.
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.
It is my opinion that NIMASA needs to step in to help the Cadets broker arrangements to acquire relevant sea-time experience. That way, they can complete their trainings and become competitive in the open market.
It is also my opinion that Nigerian shipping companies should be empowered and supported to survive so that they in turn will provide employment to Nigerian seafarers even if it is for coastal water operation.

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