Day of the Seafarer: Beyond Annual Ritual of Rhetoric

Today, June 25, Nigeria will once again join other member-nations of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to celebrate the Day of the Seafarer.

This day, June 25 every year, has been set aside by the global maritime industry watchdog to appreciate the enormous sacrifice and contributions of seafarers to sea-born trade.

In 2010, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), decided to designate June 25 as the International Day of the Seafarer as a way to recognize that almost everything we use in our daily lives has been directly or indirectly affected by sea transport.

The purpose of the day is to give thanks to seafarers for their contributions to world economy and the civil society; and for the risks and personal costs they bear while on their jobs.

According to IMO’s estimates, ships transport almost 90 percent of the world’s goods trade. Seafarers are not only responsible for the operations of such ships, but are also responsible for the safe and smooth delivery of the cargo.

The day not only acknowledges the invaluable work of seafarers, but also aims to bring global attention to the issues affecting their work and lives, such as piracy.

It calls on governments to develop policies that lead to fair treatment of seafarers at ports, and asks private ship companies and owners to provide their employees proper facilities and comforts while they are at sea.

The first Day of the Seafarer was observed on June 25, 2011.

Since then, it has become an annual ritual.

Nigeriamaritime360.com joins millions of seafarers in the world to celebrate this day.

We align with the noble objective of the IMO to draw global attention to the invaluable contributions of these sea men and women to the world economy.

We are particularly intrigued by this year’s theme which is on gender equality.

The theme which seeks to give women a pride of place in the male-dominated profession is worth celebrating.

But we are worried that Nigeria, nay, Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the apex regulatory agency of the maritime industry in Nigeria, has not done much to improve the welfare of Nigerian seafarers.

Tomorrow, just like every 25th June of each year since 2010, NIMASA will join other maritime administrations in the world to celebrate the seafarers.

Tomorrow, just as what has been the case since 2010, NIMASA will regale us with eloquent speech to eulogise Nigerian seafarers, making high sounding promises that have become an annual ritual but largely fulfilled in the breach.

It is disheartening to note that the fortunes of Nigerian seafarers have not significantly improved over the years despite the annual ritual of celebrating their contributions which seeks to draw global attention to their worth and challenges.

The continued neglect of the welfare of Nigerian seafarers by the concerned authorities has clearly shown that the annual day for seafarers which Nigeria celebrates is more of a jamboree than an impetus to improve their lots and fortunes.

Generally, seafarers work under the most difficult terrain and condition.

For several months, they would be on the high sea, faced with the turbulent current of the sea and the threats from the deadly sea pirates and robbers, who on many occasions take them hostages for ransom or kill them.

This affects their level of sanity in most cases.

In other climes, the seafarers are well recognised and remunerated.

But Nigerian seafarers are faced with myriad of challenges.

First, they are poorly remunerated, despite the ratification of the MLC instrument meant to improve their welfare and enhance their take -home pay.

The employers of these seamen, the shipping companies, merely pay lip service to the implementation of the MLC.

Unfortunately, NIMASA, the enforcing agency, has shown lack of will power to enforce the implementation of this International Convention.

The manning agents therefore cashed in on the laxity of the regulatory agency to enforce compliance and subject the seafarers to mindless extortion before placing them on board vessels.

We note with concern that Nigerian seafarers are aging while the interventionist programme,  the National Seafarers Development Programme(NSDP) midwifed by NIMASA to shore up the depleting and ageing seafarers pool has largely remained ineffective due to poor execution.

Most of the beneficiaries of the programme are half baked and largely unemployable due to lack of sea time experience.

Sea-time experience, which is one of the critical components of seafaring and meant to equip seafarers with practical knowledge of the job, was not built into the NSDP initially.

The latest fire brigade efforts by NIMASA to remedy the situation through the hurriedly packaged arrangement to place the cadets on board the vessels for sea-time experience, has yielded little results.

Thus, most of the graduates of the programme have become unemployable which leads them to take to menial jobs for survival.

These shortcomings have robbed Nigeria of the opportunity to replenish the depleted seafarer pool.

To compound the problem, the aging ones have limited opportunities to work since the demise of Nigeria national carrier and the failed attempts of government to resuscitate it.

The few indigenous employers and the manning agents exploited these lapses to extort them.

More worrisome is the failure of the regulatory agency, NIMASA, whose certificate of competency issued to Nigerian seafarers, is grossly limited in scope.

The hapless Nigerian seafarers have shouted themselves hoarse for NIMASA to remove the “Near coastal voyage” clause in the certificate which limits their scope of operations.

The holders of NIMASA’s CoC cannot work beyond the country’s coastline and on board vessels above 3000 gross tons.

In addition, some Nigerian seafarers are said to be in jail due to some inexplicable reasons that speak volume of their state of well-being and  metal health.

From all indications, with these formidable challenges, Nigerian seafarers could pass for endangered species whose physical and mental health is under brutal attack.

While some of their contemporaries in the saner societies where they are truly valued have every reason to celebrate and indulge them, we see little reason for the Nigerian seafarers to do the same, except to merely participate in the annual ritual which the Day of the Seafarer has come to represent in Nigeria.

That is why we are amused by this year’s theme which focuses on women and seeks to place them on the same pedestal with their male counterparts.

While this attempt is feasible among other countries which value the contributions of their seamen beyond mere rhetoric, it is laughable for Nigerian women seafarers to think of having equal opportunities and recognition with their traumatised, harassed and depressed male counterparts who are yet to realise their full potentials in an environment truncated by government’s lack of true appreciation of their worth.

The preponderance of physical, mental and sexual abuses to which our female seafarers are being subjected to was as a result of the few job opportunities available which are not even enough for their male counterparts.

So before any female seafarer could break this barrier to get employment, she is often asked to yield to the inordinate desire if her male employer.

For us, except government shows genuine commitment to the welfare and wellbeing of Nigerian seafarers, the annual celebration of Day of the Seafarer will be a mere jamboree where act of rhetoric is being displayed and elevated every year.

To justify the huge resources NIMASA deploys to observe this annual ritual, it must muster enough political will to remove all the encumbrances that deny Nigerian seafarers the benefits and comfort associated with this noble profession.

Government should also provide an enabling environment for them to work, improve their physical and mental wellbeing and make them have sense of self-worth like their counterparts in other countries.

 

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