The Pains of Nigerian Seafarers Amidst Global Celebration

The  25th day of every year  has become an annual ritual to celebrate the Seafarers worldwide.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) set aside that day for the world to celebrate the heroic feats and contributions of the sea men to international shipping.
It is the day the world stands in unison to acknowledge the sacrifice these men and women of the sea made to ensure global shipping operations continue despite the challenges.
Last week Thursday, June 25th, Nigeria  once again joined other affiliated member-nations of the IMO to celebrate the Day of the Seafarers.

In 2010, the IMO decided to designate June 25th of every year 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 kudos 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 accounts for 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.

The Day 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. joins millions of seafarers in the world to celebrate this year’s seafarers 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, especially during this trying times of Covid-19 pandemic.

Beyond this annual ritual, have Nigerian seafarers fared better?
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.
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.

The condition of service of seafarers worldwide is even more dangerous and critical during this Covid-19 pandemic as most of them are daily exposed to the danger of being infected.
During this period, crew change has been difficult as this made them to spend longer time on board of vessels where they were quarantined due to the pandemic. This affects their level of sanity in most cases.

In other climes, the seafarers are well recognized 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” (NCV)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.

This has made them to be rejected by both local and international employers who prefer seamen with foreign CoC. For few who were lucky to get placement on vessels, they receive much lower wages than their foreign counterparts on the same vessels, a disparity in wages that is engendered by the low worth of their CoC.

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 themselves, 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.

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.

It is only then the annual ritual of the Day of Seafarers  will be worth all the hype  and have meaning for Nigerian seamen.
Anything short of this, the day of the Seafarers, to us, will always be an annual jamboree in Nigeria where the hapless Nigerian seafarers will be regaled with boring rhetoric and unfulfilled promises.

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