Last Tuesday,28th of June ,2022,will remain indelible in the minds of all Seafarers in Nigeria.For it’s a day that brought all the Seafarers who hitherto had been singing different tunes together to fashion sustainable ways of bettering their lot. It was the maiden edition of the World Seafarers’ day in Nigeria. It was a day the Seafarers decided to take their destiny in their own hands by hoisting the flag of unity and cooperation among themselves.
As usual before the event, MMS Plus had a chat with Captain Alfred Oniye ,an articulate ,seasoned professional and a certified maritime Safety and Security expert. The first Ph.D holder in Maritime Safety and Security in the whole world.
Capt.Oniye spoke extensively on the challenges confronting Nigerian Seafarers and the way forward. In this interview with Frank Odinukaeze,he opened a Can of worms by exposing those aiding foreigners to sabotage the Cabotage law. Why are Ghana’s Seafarers recognized globally and Nigerian Seafarers are not?
Find out these and many more in this chat. Enjoy it.
The maiden edition of the Nigerian Seafarers’ Day with the theme:”The Voyage,Then and Now” is certainly a huge one for all seafarers, What is the objective of this celebration? And what does the theme symbolize?
The main objective is to compare the old voyage and the new voyage. To compare how it was then and how it is now. The experience, the style, the betterment: Is it better now? So, those are what the theme stands for. And if “now” is not better than “then”, it means we have to work out certain things. And if “then” is better than “now”, I think something is wrong. So these are the things we are trying to set the record for. And that is why we are having a maiden edition of Nigerian Seafarers’ Day. It’s a seafarers’ day not any agency’s day. So we should be the ones hosting the seafarers, hosting ourselves, while every other agency should be our guest. It is completely wrong for Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to be hosting our seafarers’ day for us. They should be our guest. It is wrong, it’s not NIMASA; it is the seafarers’ day. So that is why we are having a maiden edition of the Nigerian Seafarers Day that will be in line with the global seafarers’ day. We need a body that will bring all seafarers together under one umbrella, for us to fight for the same cause. We want to see how we can solve the seafarers’ problem and until we come together, the problems can’t have a solution. Division has always been the problem we are facing. So this maiden edition is bringing everybody together. It is also an opportunity for Cadets who are just coming into the profession to understand the history of seafarers globally and also to get a better definition of who a seafarer is. Because we discover that many of them don’t even know who a seafarer is. And that is the reason why seafarers are being looked down upon. Also, when you don’t know your identity, there is no way you can defend who you are. That is exactly what we are trying to do tomorrow(last Tuesday)..
With this celebration which is probably bringing the seafarers together for the first time, does this signify signs of things to come, considering the disunity among the seafarers?
Yes, this signifies unity because; there is serious disunity amongst Seafarers. And this disunity was caused by some existing agencies: shipping companies, ship owners, even some regulatory bodies who dont have one voice. There is what is called divide and rule in security. And I think that’s what they are using against the seafarers. But we need to tell them that we are putting an end to that. It can’t continue like this for life. Things have got to change. It is now time for seafarers. The country need to understand that you can survive without any other agency. Without the arm forces, you can survive. There is no country that can survive without the seafarer. So we are making people to understand how important the seafarer is, in case they don’t know. The National Assembly cannot have money to share if the seafarer don’t sail. If we don’t take out your crude oil and bring back refined petroleum, you can’t have money. Ninety per cent of what you consume in this country is through the sea. And the seafarers are the ones bringing all these goods. If we drop anchor today, in the next ten to twenty years, Nigeria will not recover from the loss. If all the seafarers from Nigeria drop anchor today and seafarers from the outside refused to sail into the Nigerian waters, then there will be nothing like NIMASA. There will be nothing like NPA, Shippers’ Council etc. They won’t exist again. Where are they going to get money to run the agency? That NIMASA is generating trillions of naira in a year, is the work of the seafarers. If you say NPA is generating money, it’s the seafarers’job that is bringing the money. If they say the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) is generating trillions of naira, it’s the seafarers’ job. If the seafarers don’t sail the ship, how will they generate the money? How will they get money for duty on the goods that are into the country? You cannot do without us. And we need to set that record straight. We’re having a maiden edition to talk about the history of the merchant navy, and define what we have for the world to know who the seafarers are. We are seafarers; essential workers that no one can do without. We are speaking in one voice now.
Do you have a body that guard or protect your interest?
Yes, we have different bodies doing that before. Like the way we have Merchant Seafarer Association of Nigeria (MESAN), Marine Professionals Forum, amongst others. But at a stage, we discovered that we cannot be like a tree in the forest. It’s necessary for everybody to come together under one umbrella. That is why we called it joint professional bodies of seafarers. Seafarers are not union. We are professionals. You don’t need to be a union to be a seafarer. But you need to be a certified professional before you can be a seafarer. Seafarer is somebody who is trained and certified with International Maritime Organization (IMO), recognized certification. That’s who a seafarer is,not a union. We are not ruled by union. We are professionals that you cannot do without. We have a body that regulates, but the body is just like one tree crying in the forest. But now we are setting the record straight. We are not fighting anybody. We are just keeping our place, taking what belongs to us and taking our stand. Talk about education; seafarers are well read and well learned. Academically, we are there. So give me reasons you cannot appoint a seafarer to be a minister of transportation? Give me a reason you cannot appoint a seafarer to be NIMASA’s DG? Give me a reason you cannot appoint a seafarer to be NPA Managing Director, Shippers’ Council’s Executive Secretary, head of National Inland Water Ways (NIWA) amongst others? I would like you to analyze this view in your publication. Seafarers are more than qualified to be the head of all these ministries and parastatals I mentioned. They should stop looking down on us, because we are well read and more qualified to head even the ministry of transport. The irony of it all is that when they appoint any of these people to head these organizations, they still look for the seafarers. I have never seen any minister of transportation that will not need seafarers to teach him what he needs to understand about the maritime. I have never seen a DG in NIMASA that will not need seafarer’s input on what is happening around the waters. We are more than qualified for all these positions. Now, the question is: Why are they not appointing seafarers? Enough of appointing people that don’t have understanding, people who don’t have operational qualification, people who don’t have professional qualification. Because when they appoint people who don’t have this maritime knowledge, they don’t see the problem in the industry. The only thing they see is how they want to make money. Things are getting out of hand. Make use of seafarers and you’ll see we will have a better maritime environment and that is the language we are speaking now.
In other words, you are suggesting that appointments into some of these agencies are politically motivated?
Yes. But even if they are going to be politically motivated, let them make use of seafarers.
Are you telling me that there are no seafarers that are politicians?
Even if you want to use politics, appoint seafarers and see if there will not be changes. Stop giving us people who don’t have understanding of our job. That is what we are saying.
Nigerian Seafarers and Cadets are being rejected by foreign vessels and countries because of the Certificate of Competence (CoC) issued by NIMASA, what are you doing to address this challenge? It is a great setback for the seafarers, that they cannot operate outside Nigeria.
I don’t think there is a problem with the certificate. It’s just for NIMASA to give a better explanation on this certificate. Even NIMASA themselves don’t understand this certificate they are issuing. Because the certificate NIMASA is issuing can carry any vessel within the Nigerian waters. That is why it’s called Near Coastal Voyage (NCV), unlimited. So, it can carry any vessel within the Nigerian waters. Any vessel you bring into the Nigerian territory, Nigerian license can carry it. The only thing is once this vessel is out of Nigeria, Nigerian cannot carry it. But if it has more than fifty tons on it, Nigerian license can carry it. So what we are saying is:Foreign seafarers captaining vessel within the Nigerian water should stop. You don’t bring foreigner to be sailing within our water to carry this ship. The only snag is that this Certification cannot carry ships outside the country. NIMASA should raise this issue because by the time they remove NCV and make it Foreign Going Nation(FGN) it gives them a good ground to sail this ship outside Nigerian waters. But for what they are issuing now ,it can only carry any capacity of ship within the Nigerian waters. NIMASA themselves don’t have better understanding of the Certificate they are issuing. That is why they are using foreigners to replace Nigerians in their own water.
Why is it difficult for Nigerian Seafarers to operate outside the Nigerian waters? Is it a function of poor training or absence of relevant and requisite curriculum? What exactly is the issue?
No! I wouldn’t say it’s poor training. It is about certification because the Near Coastal Voyage( NCV) being issued to Nigerian Seafarers has limitations, because it cannot operate outside the Nigerian waters. So when they remove that limitation they can now operate outside Nigerian waters.
Yes,we know there is poor training.But another thing is that there are still Nigerians who are highly competent.I repeat ,who are highly competent.I mean highly professional in the game.
The Seafarers the Philippines and the Egyptians are training for us, cannot withstand Nigerian trained seafarers. Nigerian seafarers are more competent than the Philippines and the Egyptian Seafarers. If they think it’s a lie let them bring Egyptian and Philippines trained Seafarers let them come and sit for Nigerian CoC,he or she will fail.He or she cannot pass Nigerian CoC.
Philippines and Egyptians are training Seafarers for us but what they are giving us is what cannot fit in into the Nigerian system. I make bold to say that Nigerian Seafarers are more competent than Philippines and Egyptian trained Seafarers.
If you say Nigerian Seafarers are more competent than the Philippines and Egyptian Seafarers, why then are we having this problem of limitations in the operations of Nigerian Seafarers?
As far as I can say ,we are still looking at the limitation of the NCV. The NCV cannot sail outside. That’s why it’s called Near Coastal Voyage (NCV).But that is just a paper thing. That does not mean if you give Nigerian Seafarers the ship they cannot sail it outside Nigeria.
They have the competence to do that. They can handle it. But the licence does not permit them to do so. It’s just like you driving in Lagos,and your licence is limiting you to Lagos. Does that mean you cannot drive in Ondo,Ogun ,Enugu or any other part of the country? So it’s the licence that is limiting them, and not that they are not competent enough to sail ship outside Nigeria.
How then can this problem be resolved?
All that the Nigerian government need to do is to enforce employment of Nigerian Seafarers within the Nigerian waters. Any ship that is going to trade within the Nigerian water must employ Nigerian Seafarers. Even if it’s a foreigner and you are going to trade within the Nigerian waters,you must employ Nigerian Seafarers because we have the Cabotage Act that says ‘a ship trading within the Nigerian water must be manned by Nigerians, crewed by Nigerians and owned by Nigerians. ‘The act further says that the ship should be built in Nigeria. But now we are not building. Even if we are not building,the ones coming from outside, make it mandatory that they employ Nigerian Seafarers in line with the Cabotage Act. And if they cannot employ Nigerian Seafarers,let them stay outside Nigerian waters.That is all we need.Yoi can’t be coming to take over the job that belongs to Nigerians and you expect them to be happy? Foreigners should leave Nigerian work. They should leave our jobs for us, so that Seafarers can work.
It is being suggested in some quarters that the government of Nigeria should make it mandatory that every vessel whether foreign or local coming into Nigerian waters must carry at least two cadets on board for training and for sea time experience.What is your take on this?
As long as they are trading in the Nigerian waters , it’s compulsory. If the Nigerian government can make it compulsory that as long as you want to trade on Nigerian water, you must have two cadets on board, it will be a step in the right direction. This should not be limited to foreign vessels,the Nigerian vessels as well. As long as you are trading on Nigerian waters you must have two cadets on board the ship. And not only that,the rest of the crew must be Nigerians. They do it in America.I was trained in the UK.They will not drop an American for you .They will not dare it.Same thing in Canada.If you get to Canada,you will hand over to a Canadian who understands the terrain. There are Laws that govern these things. We don’t obey Laws in Nigeria.
As a matter of fact,for going against the Cabotage Act, they should be arrested .For trading on Nigerian waters and without Nigerian crew they should be arrested for violation of the Cabotage Act.
Are you saying that the government should be blamed for the problems of the Seafarers in Nigeria?
Yes,the government should be blamed. Enforcing the Cabotage Act should have been the responsibility of NIMASA because they are under the ministry of transport. In the Merchant Shipping Act,the Minister of Transportation is the coordinator of the activities of the merchant shipping. So he is in charge of all these. Looking at the Cabotage Act, he is also in charge. So the government should be blamed for this.There is Law in place. It has not been changed. It’s still there. Therefore, if foreign ships come into the Nigerian waters to trade and is not employing Nigerian Seafarers to do the job they should be arrested and detained for violation of the Cabotage law.
The government can also come up with a policy making it compulsory that vessels trading on Nigerian water must employ two cadets or even more. The reason is that if you don’t train the up coming ones now ,in the next 5 – 10 years ,where are we going to get the competent Seafarers that will replace the old ones?
Some of us are getting old and that was the main reason for the anchor programme that we held to see how we can train these seafarers to be more competent. To transfer this knowledge for free to them .The licence NIMASA is issuing can carry any ship, can work on board any ship within the Nigerian waters. It is the NCV. If this suggestion is enforced ,I tell you hundreds of Nigerian Seafarers will have job.
Another issue the government should look into and do something about is the giving out of contracts meant for Nigerian ship to foreigners. And that is why sometimes you don’t blame some of these Nigerian ship owners , because the contract that is meant for them is given out to foreign ships who come to Nigeria. And the funniest part is that if they are going to give the contract to a Nigerian ship,they will reduce the money.The same contract they will give to foreign ship for $500,000 ,they will give to Nigerian ship owner for $10,000 .If they are paying a foreign Seafarer $20,000,they will pay Nigerian Seafarer $5000.That is pure rubbish!
There is standard payment for Seafarers. That is why some of us don’t sail in Nigeria. There is a standard pay. And that is why some seafarers refused to dance to the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) of a thing because it is not speaking the Seafarers language. There was no input from the Seafarers in the packaging of the CBA. Do you scrape people’s hair behind them? No! You can’t. We need the CBA to be in line with international salary. If Gbemi Saraki,Minister of Transportation, wants to really work, tell her to enforce the Cabotage Act, and you will see that the industry will change.
Ghana Seafarers have unlimited CoC while Nigerian Seafarers don’t. What is Ghana doing differently that Nigeria is not doing?
It is just for us to raise the standard. That is all.
Ghana is not better than Nigeria. Put ten Ghananians together are they up to Nigeria?
We have more money than Ghana. In fact, Nigeria is Ghana’s market. So there is nothing that stops us from raising the standard. It is just for us to build up the curriculum and that is all. We have seasoned Captains who can take these curriculum and review them .But when you have a head of an agency who does not understand the technical know-how of the job, they will be compromised. Integrity is the problem of NIMASA.
When you talk of integrity, what actually do you mean?
They are not truthful. All you need to do is just to raise the standard of your curriculum and start issuing this CoC licence. Is it so difficult to do? Ghana is not doing anything different because they are not better than us.No,they are not. Bring a Ghanaian, let him come and sit for Nigerian CoC,he will fail.Or you bring an Egyptian or a Philipino to come and sit for Nigerian CoC ,he will not pass.
A second officer unlimited from Philippines came to Nigeria,he could not hoist the flag from Egypt.My last ship,I had two second officers from Philippines.Second officer unlimited,they came on board,they have to start afresh as an ordinary seaman (OS) and the same people bring the licence to Nigeria and they will be raising shoulders. And NIMASA will say they brought Seafarers from Philippines.
The Philippines and Egyptians,they are competent by Certification but operationally, they are not competent.
There is academic qualification, and there is professional qualification; and there is also operational qualification.The Philippines and the Egyptians that they give us don’t have operational competence. They only have professional competence which is their CoC. But put them on board, they will mess up completely.
Bring Nigerian trained Certified Seafarer and an Egyptian and Philippines trained Seafarer and let both of them sit down,you will discover that Nigerian trained Seafarer will beat them hands down.
For the fact that Nigerian trained Seafarers’ licence is Near Coastal Voyage (NCV),and they can carry any ship within the Nigerian water,does not mean they cannot sail same ship outside Nigerian waters. The only difference is that the licence does not permit them to sail that ship outside.But give it to Nigerian Seafarers,they can sail ship to any part of the world.
The Curriculum of maritime institutions in Nigeria, both private and public, what role have they played in the present seafarers’ quagmire?
They need to review the curriculum because this job is not a class room work. The curriculum needs to be reviewed. And I must be sincere with you, it’s not a class room work. And the reason why they need to review it is because they need to add practicals to it. Add practicals to it and look at the updated ones they are running in the UK, America and other places and that is what we need to level up. It shouldn’t be class, class! You don’t learn driving in the class. You learn it on the field. If your course is for three years ,you should spend two years in class and the remaining one year on the field. That is the message we are preaching: Raise the standard of this curriculum, and before you know it ,we are there.
Whose responsibility it is to raise the standard?
It’s NIMASA’s.That’s NIMASA’s job, because they are the ones conducting the exams. But when the person that it is his duty to do that refuses or fails to do it ,then there is a problem. My take on all of these is that the institutions should come together and review their curriculum and run a standard programme. If they do that ,nobody will question them for that. So they don’t need to wait for NIMASA.
Ordinarily,NIMASA is supposed to check their curriculum, check what they are running, but NIMASA is not doing that. May be, those who are supposed to do that are not competent enough. But the point is:They don’t need to wait for NIMASA to improve their curriculum.They don’t need to wait for NIMASA to set a ,standard curriculum.