Seafarers as endangered species amidst #COVID-19 lockdown

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Seafarers as endangered species amidst #COVID-19 lockdown
Chinazor Megbolu 

As the global economy is currently under compulsory lockdown due to the raging #COVID-19 pandemic, it may not be out of place to suggest that the seafarers who are already on board before the break of the virus should consider remaining on-board and extend their contract as it is unlikely that they will be able to get home even when their vessels berth.

It is also unlikely that the officers who are to take over from them would be able to make it to the vessels because of the lockdown hence, the need to consider the plight of such seafarers amid the emergency elongation of duty.

The fate of Nigerian seafarers stranded as a result of the novel Covid-19 cannot expressly be determined because of the disposition of their employers towards them.

The employers of Seafarers have always paid lip service to their welfare without concrete commitment towards implementation of policies and conventions that are meant to empower them.

However, benefits for extension of their contracts should not be greeted with lip service but strong commitment that should be commensurate with their hazardous duties and attendant hardship faced during this pandemic.

When one checks with their flag state to see if ship owners can extend this flexibility without being in danger of breaching their MLC obligations, employers will be liable to pay them for any such extension of duty.

Under normal circumstances, seafarers are entitled to all MLC/Seafarer Employment Agreement (SEA) rights.

Some stakeholders in the nation’s maritime sector lend their support towards ensuring the safety and well-being of the stranded seafarers.

Engineer Alalade Matthew, the immediate past National President, Nigerian Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Senior Staff Association, recently enjoined the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to provide relief materials and other stimulus packages for stranded foreign seafarers in Nigerian seaports and territorial waters.

He noted that some sailors in Nigeria need assistance from the Federal Government to cushion the effects of Covid-19 pandemic.

He added that the two regulatory maritime agencies should deploy personnel to get first-hand information about their wellbeing and current location.

Alalade called on the nation’s flag and port states to emulate the Singaporean and Philippines innovations by providing succour for stranded foreign nationals in their territorial waters, as this could further alleviate the suffering and depression being faced by the seafarers

He urged the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), Mission To Seafarers in Nigeria and National Seafarers Welfare Board (NSWB) to engage and monitor activities of stranded sailors in Nigeria as part of their respective roles with a view to showing kindness and sense of belonging.

”Without the seafarers demanding or asking for help, the Ministry of Transportation should have mandated the agencies under maritime especially NIMASA and NPA to provide relief materials for the stranded seafarers.

“The agencies should also extend donations and contributions to them because they are humans even though they are not Nigerians.

“But I want to believe that NIMASA should know what to do at this point in time because seafarers play key roles in world trade.

“Other flag states in the world have done so much for stranded seafarers since the outbreak of the pandemic and movement restrictions.

“If you are talking of maritime labour nations, Philippines understands what it portends to be stranded. As they take maritime business seriously because its the highest earning GDP for the nation and seafaring contributes significantly to the growth of the country.

“If Nigerian seafarers are on their flag ship, they would kindly do so in consultations with such nationals’ consulate,” Alalade said.

On the other hand, the Merchant Navy through its leadership, also lent support by enjoining employers to protect seafarers.

The National President, Nigeria Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Senior Staff Association (NMNO/WTSSA), Mr Bob Yousuuo, in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic globally,  advocated for employers of seafarers to ensure proper protection of personnel on board their vessels in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The group again tasked manning agents, shipping, fishing and offshore companies to put up all necessary measures that will guarantee the safety and mental well-being of on-board crews as they continue to work for the survival of the Nigeria’s economy.

Yousuuo maintained that President Muhammadu Buhari additional two weeks stay at home directives shows that seafarers have been denied the opportunity of being with their family and love ones, during the lockdown where crew change is a big issue, which has made them to remain on-board beyond the normal period.

However, in a statement he issued,  Yousuuo noted that crews should be appreciated in any capacity the management could, adding that motivation is a key word for efficiency and productivity.

He further appealed to officers on-board to adhere strictly to all the necessary preventive measures as directed by World Health Organisation (WHO) and Nigeria’s health experts in a bid to avoid being infected.

“The management of all seafarers’ employers should ensure proper care and protection of our Officers who as a result of this Covid -19 pandemic has been denied the opportunity of being with their family and love ones, most especially at the trying time where crew change is a big issue which has made them to remain on-board beyond the normal period.

“It behoves on them to ensure that there are means for on-board crews to communicate with their families and friends.

“I appeal to the management of shipping companies to put up all necessary measures that will guarantee the safety and mental well-being of on-board crews as they continue to work for the survival of their company as well as the general economy,” he said.

Meanwhile, the NIMASA Director-General, Dr. Bashir Jamoh recently extended the validity of Statutory and Trading certificates for all Nigerian Registered vessels.

The extension included Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) certificates for seafarers.

Jamoh explained that NIMASA is committed to implementing its obligations during the Covid-19 pandemic period.

He said it was necessary to ensure uninterrupted shipping, despite the pandemic, stressing that shipping is one of the major ways of moving medical aid across the globe.

“Our determination to ensure that shipping continues during this trying time remains unwavering and this is why we have continued to come up with measures to keep the global shipping chain moving in line with the recommendations of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO),” he said.

Jamoh had declared that NIMASA was in the know of the difficulties seafarers would be facing and the need to keep them in job even beyond the pandemic.

He stated that the aforementioned heralded the agency’s publication of a notice to extend their certificates and other statutory certificates that would ensure uninterrupted shipping.

“One of our major priorities is to keep our seafarers in job while not jeopardising their safety in terms of contracting the deadly virus.

“We have, therefore, come up with a notice that would extend the validity of their certificates, for those of them that might be expiring soon.

“We have also issued guidelines that would regulate crew change during this pandemic,” Jamoh said.

He further posited that the guidelines issued by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO’s) on the certification of seafarers and fishing vessel personnel have prompted the NIMASA to extend the validity of relevant certificates, such as; STCW, Mandatory and Safety certificates and Certificates of medical fitness.

Other guidelines includes; the Statutory and Trading Certificates related to SOLAS ’74 as amended, MARPOL 73/78 as amended, Certificates of Ship Registry, National requirements for Power Driven Small Crafts (PDSC), and MLC, 2006, as amended.

Moreover, Jamoh believed the extension will apply to all Nigerian flagged vessels and seafarers sailing on-board Nigerian flagged vessels, as well as seafarers with Nigerian Certificate of Competency who are sailing on foreign flagships.

The question of implementation of the promises for provision of palliatives made to seafarers still remains a mirage given the abject neglect this vital workforce in the maritime industry is being subjected to.

 

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