Retired Navy Captain Abel Ogah is currently, a training expert for the Nigerian Navy, Western Naval Command.
Q.,Can you please introduce yourself to us?
A..I am Navy Captain Ogah, retired but not tired, because I am still a captain, have been in the Navy is always a Navy, whether serving or retired.
Q. What is Merchant Marine Training Academy all about?
The Merchant Marine Training Academy is a subsidiary of Merchant Navy Directorate under the auspices of Society of Nigerian Mariners, authorised by Nigerian Shipping Act of 2007, meaning that it is a legitimate subsidiary.
Q. Is this body a duplication of the already established merchant Navy directorate with the Merchant Navy Senior Staff Union?
A. In every profession, there are the practitioners, there are the management and there are just supporters club. So, in the maritime environment, there are the activists and there are union members.
All of us in this formation are professionally sound in our various specialisation in the maritime industry.
Q. The IMB has released a verdict that Nigerian waters are now safer from pirates, do you trust this report?
A. There is a difference between an ideal situation and the reality on ground, it is like the case of the more you look the less you see, and also, some statements are made based on political drive, the people who are making these statements, how much of the sea do they know? Do they even understand what piracy is all about and the difference between piracy and sea robbery? Do they know the demarcations in the maritime environment?
Piracy is not just something that somebody come to your backyard at the waterside to steal something, somebody who have just been sailing from CMS to Ikorodu, and because he is not harassed on water does not mean that there is no piracy on Nigerian waters, the piracy exists on the high seas, while sea robbery is just the hungry thief that operates in the inland waters.
Again, how many of our vessels go to sea to see what is happening on the high seas, it is only when you go to the high seas that you would know whether there are pirates on the high seas or not, piracy takes place on the high seas, so you cannot remain in Ikoyi in a fenced house and say there are no more thieves in Lagos, until you get to Ajegunle and Mushin.
I cannot say that there is no reduction in piracy, but I can never tell you that piracy is gone in our waterways because the agencies and the instruments to carryout their operations and police against the pirates, I don’t think they are confidently doing their job, and that is why, if you see a police man on the street, this does not mean he is there to do the job of policing.
Q. The employability of Nigerian seafarers have been called into question, meaning we don’t have qualified seafarers
A. The first question is; do we have trained seafarers? If you don’t give somebody an assignment, you cannot know the person’s competence, in Nigeria for example, NIMASA claim to be training people yearly, but the only way you can know that the person you trained has competence is when you give him a vessel to handle. Definitely, out of every twelve, there must be a Judas, and today, even the employment we have is not based on competence, three people graduates from school, but the person that will get the employment is the one with a pass, not even a third class, this is because he has the connection, and because he doesn’t have the competence, he would be judged as somebody that is incompetent when he begins to perform, meanwhile the person who came out with first class is still carrying papers up and down.
And because they are not employed, they revert back to piracy, it is only a person who knows how to control cow that can steal a cow. So, it is only a person that knows the secret of the maritime environment that can be a pirate.
Q. NIMASA says it has stopped issuing waivers to vessels on crewing, have this been effective?
A. If you want to monitor the vessels and localise the seafarers on Nigerian waters, how many vessels belong to Nigerians, when a man goes and bring a vessel from outside the country, and the man does not trust you because of antecedents, he would come with his own crew, there are so many fishing vessels prefer to use foreigners, they prefer to pay more money to the foreigners because they believe in the ideal.
Q. Can we conduct arrest of ship owners violating these Cabotage laws?
A.,The people who are enforcing, how much of what they are enforcing do they know? It is what you know that you can enforce, there is a lot of ignorance and political influence, when you arrests somebody now, even before he gets to the police station, a call would come in and the person would be released, so in order to enforce the Cabotage law, there must be political will.
Q. The security contract government entered into with Israeli firm, do you think it would reduce piracy?
A. Who can secure your house more than you? It is only the person who know where the item is kept that can secure it, why do you have to bring outsiders to secure where you have kept your property? To me it is a wrong venture, it means we don’t even believe in ourselves, and we have seafarers that are not employed, why don’t we create our own indigenous security outfit that would man our own maritime environment? Why are we bringing people from outside?
If government provide the necessary logistics for the people in Nigeria, they would do better than the people coming from outside because they already know the in and out of what they are securing.
Q. What are the major strides your NGO has made so far?
A. We are trying to ensure collaboration with relevant agencies, there is a department they call Seafarers Welfare Board in Nigeria, they are supposed to be concerned with the welfare of seafarers, no matter the organization they belong to whether it is Nigerian Navy, merchant Navy or private outfit, that you go to sea, you should be conversant with some of the diseases that are common to you, and if you have need for treatment, there are places you should go to, but the Welfare Board is existing on paper, so, we are trying to first of all create awareness about related challenges, health challenges, illnesses, diseases that are common to seafarers. Secondly, we council them before they go to sea, and also, depending on logistics, we help those who are constrained in one way or the other to see how they can manage their health situation. It is not every time that you go to sea and they tell you about sea sickness, sometimes it is not sea sickness, when you don’t have the logistics to survive at sea, naturally, it would begin to have some effect on you.
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