Captain Williams Ogunshakin is the South West Director, Merchant Seafarers Association of Nigeria. A seasoned professional seafarer, a Master Mariner who has put in over 30 years in merchant shipping and seafaring. In this interview with MMS Plus, Captain Ogunshakin bares the minds of over fifty forum seafarers group in Nigeria, over the review of seafarers working condition presently before the National Assembly, and lamented that the seafarers were not carried along in the review. He spoke on the pitiable and poor conditions under which Nigerian ship captains and seafarers work. Find out why after many years experience as Master Mariners, Nigerian ship captains still work as Casuals. And also why the Review Act might be dead on arrival. He spoke with Frank Odinukaeze. Enjoy it
We want to look at the proposed review of the NIMASA Act and the Merchant Shipping Act currently before the National Assembly. I don’t know if you are aware of this review sir?
I’m actually aware of the review but basically, I don’t know what they actually want to review in that Act. Basically, the Act is already overdue for review because there are so many madness going on in the industry that if Merchant Shipping Act, is not reviewed, the illegality will continue. But, I cannot comment on the review for now until I know what exactly they actually want to amend in the Act. Then, we can now say if what they are amending is alright or is not alright.
What is the advantage of what they are amending to the industry?
So these are the areas, and therefore I cannot just comment when I don’t even know what they want to have or review or what they want to remove in the Act.
Actually, the review is looking at the working conditions of the seafarers and how they can improve the minimum standard of their working conditions. What do you make of this development?
Yes, I heard about that. They said that they are looking into the working conditions of seafarers, they want to add it into the Act because, seafarer’s salary is not charity, it is their right. But what they want to add to the Act is what we call CBA ( Collective Bargaining Agreement). Now, if you say you are reviewing standard for seafarers’ salary and their working condition, what and what are you trying to put together? What you are actually adding to this Act is not even known to the seafarers themselves. Are you going to scrape people’s head behind them? I said like a year ago ,when this CBA have thing came on, and I said this CBA, nobody will work with it, this CBA is dead on arrival. Even those that came together to sign this CBA, most of them are not seasoned seafarers. Okay, we talked about the Ship Owners but those who represented the seafarers are not even seasoned seafarers. Now, when you finish this CBA even the real seafarers themselves don’t even know what is inside the CBA. Just like enacting a law that governs categories of people and the same people don’t even know what the law is saying. I can tell you, over 80-99% of seafarers in Nigeria don’t know what they have in that CBA. And people are not respecting it, people are not complying. You want to make it a law,and add it to Merchant Shipping Act, because, law is made by people, for people in order to make life comfortable for them. If the same law is not making life comfortable for people, the law can be revoked. So putting it into the Merchant Shipping Act doesn’t make it valid and that’s the truth. If it’s going to make life difficult for the seafarers, it will not still work. We need to understand what is called moral. When you don’t put people into consideration before you put certain things into law, it will be dead on arrival. There are so many laws in this country that are not effective and cannot even work. So, the seafarers don’t even know what is inside the CBA. They have made it a secret document. CBA has to do with the welfare and salary of the Seafarers, but the point is that seafarers don’t know what is inside the CBA. The same way CBA became dead on arrival will be the same way this law will become dead on arrival because, the law is supposed to make life comfortable for people. And the people you are making this law for don’t even know understand it. So it is possible for you to pass it into law and it won’t still be effective. My point is, if they pass it into law, and it doesn’t give comfort to seafarers, it won’t still be effective. It can still be dead on arrival. So for the fact that it is passed into law doesn’t make it useable because the law is made by men, in order to make life comfortable.
From all you are saying, It’s like the unified Seafarers body did not make any input into the proposed review?
Ask anybody that you know. And ask them what they know about the CBA and the people that are representing them. Ask them how many of them are still very active at it? Some of them cannot even defend their Certificate of Competence ( COC.); I’m telling you the reality today. You want to scrape people’s head behind them, can you do that? You are talking about the law that governs seafarers and you didn’t make it public. You are supposed to make it public let seafarers comment and air their opinion. When you make it a secret thing and you want to pass it into law, and add it to Merchant Shipping Act, it will be dead on arrival, because nobody will comply. There are so many laws in this country that are not active because, those laws do not make life comfortable for citizens. The basic reason for law is to make life comfortable for the citizens. Law is not for selfish interest. So those who make it secretive are those that are making it for a selfish interest. I can tell you the possible reasons why they are passing it into law is for their own selfish interest and not in the interest of the Seafarers. So if it is for the interest of the seafarers, let them make it public.
They make it a secretive document. And when they are signing this agreement, the seasoned seafarers were not carried along to hear their opinion. Now the same CBA, if that is what you want to add to Merchant Shipping Act to make it a law, the same way the CBA is not active, the same is not going to be active by the time it’s passed into law. A law can be revoked if it doesn’t make life comfortable.
Are there specific areas you would have wanted or seafarers would have wanted addressed?
I don’t want to be specific in this Matter. Let them make the law, let them make it open because it has to be open that’s why we have public hearing. So what you are putting in that CBA that you want to add in Merchant Shipping Act, make it open to the public so that everybody will air their opinion on that. It is something that has to do with our life that you want to pass it secretly, it will be dead on arrival, take it or live it. Out of the over fifty seafarers forum that we have in Nigeria, none of them can boldly tell you that they are aware of or what they have in that CBA.
So who are the people doing this Collective Bargaining Agreement?
Ask them. Ask NIMASA. Can Malu represent us? Malu are they seafarers body? What did they know about seafaring? This is a purely professional job. So if you are going to pass any law that concerns seafarers , make it public and let the seasoned seafarers see what you want to pass into law, that has to do with their lives. If you don’t have hidden agenda, make it open. And I must say they have a hidden agenda. If they don’t have hidden agenda, make it open. Why are they making it secretive?
In other words, NIMASA is doing this on their own?
I don’t know if it’s NIMASA. All I know is that who so ever that is involved, should make it open. And if it is the Minister of Transport himself that is involved, let him make it open for seafarers because, you cannot scrape our head behind us. Because none of them is a secret organization. Over 80-90% of seafarers don’t even know what they have in that CBA.
Which means, if the review is finally done and it is not favourable to seafarers, it will be rejected?
It will be rejected. This country belongs to all of us. There are things you can not impose on people. We are well read. You can’t impose it on them. We are not aware of this, you passed it on our behalf, we weren’t consulted, and we are not carried along, and you expect us to respect it, how? The is for us to apply, not even for those who are pushing it. It is for us and we are not carried along. Nobody discussed with us and you expect seafarers to respect it, it is a dead law on arrival.
I’m a Master Mariner. I came back from ship since May 17 2022, do you know that up till now, nobody has notified me whether I have to resume back or not That is to tell you that the entire seafarers in Nigeria are casuals. They have misinterpreted the International Maritime Organization’s ( IMO) Convention under the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and MSC2006. Because we are having people who are not competent in the helm of our affairs . They do not understand how to interpret those laws, they refused to necessitate the law before implementing. Every three months and six months Nigeria Seafarers in the whole fronts (applicable to unlimited people) we are casuals. If a whole me after thirty something years of working as seafarer, I’m still a casual in the company I’m working with and I have worked in that company for two years and I didn’t cause any problem. When it comes to collective bargaining I with all the years of experience I have, I don’t know how much is supposed to be a captains salary, so that when I’m negotiating, I will know that I cannot go below so amount. So, we are just confused and nobody understands what is going on there. And if they sign this thing and pass it into law, we are finished. This has been on for more than five years and nobody made it open, they made it secret because, people have been settled so that whatever they write, is what they will accept. The system has gone far. If they are paying a counterpart captain in the same job I’m doing $10-12, in Nigeria some captains are earning $14,000 and my salary is not more than $5000-6000 dollars, as a Nigerian ,doing the same job. I decided not to call them because we are making case out of this matter. When it comes up to six months then, we will start our case over it; that this man has worked with you, has he committed any offence? Has he damaged your ship? Why did you abandon him? No labor protection, we are not getting labor protection . This is how far we have gone, for you to see that no seafarer is aware in Nigeria here, and the people that called themselves seafarers that have gone to sit down with the Tripartite committee are not representing us. The tripartite committee choose people they want .People they can give duty to. They know that they didn’t choose core seafarers, they didn’t choose us, we are not aware. And even when they come for meeting they will not make the minutes of their meeting public to us. Nobody is aware. I’m telling you from the voice of the seafarers.