Why Nigeria has few seafarers on international ships — Mohammed

Safiyanu Mohammed
Safiyanu Mohammed


Safiyanu Mohammed is the Africa Regional Secretary, International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) with headquarters in Nairobi Kenya. His team, penultimate week, visited Nigeria to review some operational challenges facing seafarers in the country.

In this interview with Shulammite’ Foyeku, Mohammed speaks on interventions by the ITF to enhance seafarers’ welfare and boost their chances to participate in the global shipping industry.

What is the purpose of your visit to Nigeria?

We are here to have discussions with our affiliates, the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) and the Merchant Navy for us to review the interactions we have been having with them in respect to their general operations and welfare facilities. In the past, particularly in 2009, we were able to provide seafarers in Nigeria with what we call ‘Seafarers Visiting Port’, where seafarers will have the opportunity to interact with their families. Recently, we installed another one at Tin Can Island Port. We are also thinking about collaborating with the unions along with some stakeholders to install broader facilities that will cater for the welfare of seafarers and of course the brokers here. So far, it has been a successful mission. We were able to meet with the management of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), we had extensive deliberation and areas we have identified as having deficiencies are being looked into. For example, globally, we noticed that we have limited number of Nigerians on board international seagoing vessels because of deficiency of the certification training they ought to have. What they usually have is just the local, which of course is the basic training, and the only thing that can help them build their labour opportunities is to have an advanced certification that meets global standards and requirements. Secondly, we have reports here in Nigeria that seafarers’ pay tax. Ordinary, they are suppose to have tax exemption because tax is meant for people that are actually enjoying the services government bring about from the tax, but the seafarers are on the high seas for months and not really enjoying the services of these taxes. So we are trying to see how best we can navigate and look for solutions to some of these issues.

What decisions were reached at the meeting you had with NIMASA on some of these issues?

In our interaction with NIMASA, we have an understanding that we would need a technical committee that would sit down and look at all the areas that we think that Nigeria should be able to address in respect to employment of seafarer, training and their welfare. We actually proffered some recommendations, which we were told would be part of the terms of reference that is going to be developed for us to have that joint technical committee so that we can sit down and address these issues that we have raised.

A major challenge faced by transport workers especially seafarers’ is the problem of welfare. What efforts has the ITF in the region put in place to address this problem?

It is not a regional priority. It is ITF global priority, which Africa is also part of. As I have noted, there are some basic requirements that is needed in their employment, which is central. First, you must be a certified seafarer internationally, that is what will give you that basic opportunity to be on board. There are some needs in terms of welfare, which the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) that was developed by International Labour Organisation (ILO) covers. Nigeria has been able to ratify this document, domesticated it, in fact there is a directorate that is specialised in this area and we are working hand in hand to make sure that the provisions of the MLC is applied concurrently because it is the minimum standard that seafarers on board are required to have and this is an obligation by the ship owners to ensure that these requirements are met for better condition of the seafarers.

Recently, Nigeria signed the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) to review seafarers’ wages but some seafarers have faulted the agreement, saying it does not represent their interest. What would you say to this?

I was around when the document was handed to the workers and we went through it. We realized that there are some little challenges that needed to be addressed. For example, on the issue of protection and indemnity, it was not clearly stated in the agreement what happens if a seafarer losses his life – it could be by accident or natural cause. But there is no clarity on the provisions of the document what the employers would do in trying to segregate whatever benefit is meant for a seafarer that dies naturally and the one that dies accidentally. These are things that we have seen that we need to make sure is addressed but is it a binding document and we have all agreed that we will go along with it. The only solution to this as a stopgap is that whatever happens, they have to resort to the national law that talks about compensation. The provisions in the national act are very low compared to the standard that is being applied globally in the shipping business. These are some of the areas that we have realized but we are trying to review some of the interactions we’ve had in the past so that the seafarers can be well catered for in terms of welfare.

Does the ITF have any special consideration for female seafarers’?

We have consideration for female workers not only for those who are seafarers. We have a special department for women and young workers. This is very important because we have women as part of the operation. With respect to seafaring, women may have some challenges because of the nature of the work having to stay on board for long. When there is an opening on board, it is left for the women to see if they can fit into the exercise with at least some special protection for them. In ITF, we have special consideration for women in terms of welfare and training so that they can meet up with their male counterparts.

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