There are more unemployed than employed mariners in Nigeria — Alao

There are more unemployed than employed mariners in Nigeria — Alao


The President, Nigerian Association of Master Mariners (NAMM), Capt. Tajudeen Alao has never been shy in expressing his opinion on contemporary issues affecting the maritime industry. The vociferous Master Mariner and former staff of the defunct Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), in this interview with SHIPS & PORTS’ Abolanle Oluwatola, speaks on the preponderance of fake mariners’ certificates in Nigeria and other sundry issues.


What are the primary challenges facing Master Mariners in Nigeria?

The marine profession is technology-driven. Therefore, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has upgraded the training syllabus and amended the 1978 International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) in 1995 and 2010. The traditional navigation techniques and manual cargo loading calculation have been overtaken by Global positioning system and loadmaster equipment.

Container loading and discharging is computer driven. The demand for Master Mariners is high with shortage of qualified youngsters. The pay is high for those with Class 1 but sponsorship is not available for the very expensive training which is not available locally.

How do regulatory changes and compliance requirements impact the responsibilities and workload of Master Mariners?

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is a general assembly where many interested parties attend the committee sittings when they are making conventions and contribute to making of conventions but do not vote. The interested parties include classification societies, maritime training institutions, the International Chamber of Shipping, nautical Institutes, ship building societies etc. When the convention is made, it must be adopted and domesticated and enforced in the Member State countries present in Article 94 (Implementation) and Article 217 (Enforcement). In terms of execution, Master Mariners are mariners. The seafarers onboard the ship execute operational provisions of the conventions. When the Members States surveyor go on board to audit the ship, they check for operational compliance that the seafarers are complying with the provisions of the conventions under Port State Control and under Flag State routine inspection. The surveyors go onboard to ensure that the seafarers are complying with the valid certificate, safety of life at sea in terms of life saving appliances, rest hours, fire code etc and they would be penalised if there were gaps.

What are the safety concerns faced by Master Mariners, especially when operating in challenging weather conditions or high-risk environments?

Safety of navigation is topmost in the function of a Master Mariner. When you move a ship from point A to point B without incidence in good time, you have sustainable shipping which means that you do not pollute the water on the way, no collision due to incompetency, fatigue or operational error; you are competent to manage the situation.

When you meet bad weather, you know what to do so that the ship does not break into two. They must have work permit for every operation to ensure that it is operated in a safe manner and most jobs must be done under supervision and masters’ permit.

How does the lack of standardised certification and licensing procedures for Master Mariners affect their mobility and recognition in the global maritime community?

There is standardisation; it is in the implementation that people cut corners because the law says we must put a structure in place to accredit training institutions according to international conventions of standard of training, certification and watchkeeping. If every IMO Member State ensures that, the product of the school and the certificate they issue will be authentic. They will be on the White List and it will be accepted worldwide. The convention is there, but some people do not employ qualified people to train the seafarers. They use fake certificate.

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For example, when you go onboard as a Master, some officers come onboard to join you with their certificates and you see that they do not have the requisite experience even though they have the certificate so, you cannot give them responsibility because the law says you cannot be in charge of a watch of which you are not competent. You cannot carry out management duties when you just have operational certificate. In most cases, that is what you see. You must ensure that the sea officer has Officer On Watch (OOW) certificate. Weather the certificate is genuine or fake; it takes a lot to find out. If someone goes to use Nigerian certificate in Ghana, they will have to write to the issuing authority to check its authenticity.

What role does your association play in advocating for the rights and interests of mariners?

We continue to protect those that are doing well and bring down people who are not doing well. Many people say they are not our members, they carry Librarian certificate around which is endorsements from ships. They are not our members so we cannot speak for them. Where we find out that our people are qualified with the required experience, we ensure that they are given appropriate recognition. Having certificate without experience is inappropriate. You must have sailed on a particular type of ship. You must go from the lower rank to the upper rank. Some people have experience on supply boat within Nigerian offshore and they want to go and sail on a big container ship, this is not right because the handlings of these ships are totally different.

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Advocacy is part of our roles in the maritime Industry. The experience we have gathered from trading worldwide and other areas of callings ashore have placed us at advantage to be able to collaborate with others in the industry.

Upholding of best international practices is paramount. Practicing by example is a way of mentoring upcoming mariners. This, we have done with passion. Two weeks ago, we invited students from Oceanography, Marine Transport, Marine Engineering and Nautical Science to receive lectures on maritime administration, making of conventions, putting into effect of conventions, implementation, coastal responsibilities, flag responsibilities, port state responsibilities and other delegation of authority like classification society and the real function of a Member State as far as IMO conventions are concerned. It is about are giving back to the society. We are also moderators of examinations; we are assessors to the Federal College of Fisheries etc. We also lecture. I lecture at Institute of Maritime Studies at University of Lagos. We are giving back to the society. We let the students know that the job is more than seafaring. There are job opportunities ashore that they can go into like harbour masters, pilots, mooring masters, shipping operations, dockyard managers, lecturers, private surveyors, casualty surveyor, accident surveyor etc where they can specialise and become an authority.

How many Nigerians became vessel owners over the past four years?


How many seafarers were employed?

The stated figures by maritime labour are what we have. The Merchant Navy Officers Union and the Maritime Workers Union will give a better data of those gainfully employed. The fact is there are more unemployed hands than employed.

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