With over 2million seafarers across the globe, there’s need to recognize the unique and vital role these professionals play to world trade and the global community at large.
Seafarers are responsible for the transportation of goods and services from on board vessel to offshore. Though people in maritime know that they are the most important assets in shipping, however, the world had never felt how important this set of professionals were until the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic across the globe.
June 25 is the day of the seafarer, an annual and international event day coordinated by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and as the nation joins the International community to celebrate its 11th anniversary, stakeholders and seafarers have called for more synergy between the government agency, the ship owners and the professional seafarers.
As part of efforts to celebrate the 2021 Seafarers Day, LTT Coastal & Marine Services Limited and Ocean Deep Service Limited brought together seafarers and stakeholders to discuss what a fair future means for seafarers.
At the event the Chief Executive Officer, Ocean Deep Services Ltd., Mrs. Rollens Macfoy emphasized on creating a special retirement package for seafarers because of the risk involved in the profession.
She lamented on the ridiculous mode of payments for seafarers pensioners and how pension companies treat seafarers when they demand for their money.
She therefore appealed to federal government to create a special seafarer pension scheme different from the general pension scheme.
While speaking on the challenges faced by seafarers, she noted that there is need to pay proper attention to embarkation and disembarkation of crews on board a vessel.
“We have what is termed rest time on board a vessel, you work for six hours and rest for six hours. But in a situation a seafarer works for six hours and rest for three for four hours and also welfare is properly taken care of, certainly it’ll have physical and psychological effect and the person won’t be able to able function properly.
“During the COVID-19, a female seafarer committed suicide on board because she had been on board for too long and there is no one to take over due to the restrictions and lock down so we always advice crews to take quality rest.” She said.
She added that there is need for wage harmonisation although there have been talks on it with the ship owners, maritime workers Union and NIMASA but at the moment we’ve not seen an official gazette to that effect but we’re hoping it goes in favour of Nigerian seafarers.
Speaking for seafarers on what they perceive as what a fair future is, an Engineer on MT Zaranda vessel, Chief Engr. Omeaku Glory was of the opinion that there’s need to create a better world that is accommodating, where there’s better welfare package for seafarers and the female gender are not undermined.
She added that there is need for government agencies to subsidize training fee so that they can compete favourably in the global market.
She noted that most companies don’t want to give female seafarers the opportunity to showcase their skills after training.
“I have course mates that have all the required certificates to practice but there’s no opportunity to work. There are just few companies who give the female gender opportunity,” she added.
In the same vein 2nd Engr. Jessica Joseph of MT Asaga vessel said “There’s a high unemployment for seafarers in the maritime industry
“NIMASA sponsored 25 of us from my state, and out of that 25 not up to 10 of us are currently working, it’s so bad that some of my colleagues are begging to just get a sea time experience even if they’re not going to be paid. As a result of lack of sea time experience a lot of my colleague has ventured into other business while some change profession.
“When you go to seek for job, they ask for COC, when you tender the COC they’ll say No, we want a foreign COC, when you later tender that, they’ll tell you you’re a Nigerian and when you eventually get the job, you’ll be marginalised in the sense that the salary structure you’ll be placed on will be different compared to other colleagues who are foreigners even when you have same certificate. What future do we have when there is no job opportunity?” She asked.
For Engr. Avong Darius, he noted that seafarers face a lot of challenges on board and it is important that their efforts are recognised as they sacrifice a lot. Safety is paramount because it is when our lives are secured that we will be able to talk about the fair future. All necessary safety requirements expected to be on board needs to be observed.
He also emphasised on the need to create a special retirement package and subsidised trainings for seafarers.
“When we go back to pension scheme after retirement, the way and manner we’re paid is nothing to write home about, it’s nothing compared to when we’re on board a vessel.
“The profession is highly demanding and requires continuous training but finance is a challenge. Without these courses and trainings we can’t grow nor move forward and most seafarers who are able to train themselves to a certain height only benefit on that level they are. There are lots of countries who sponsor their seafarers on trainings so if the government can also do same it’ll be of great help to us and will go a long way in securing the future.” He said.
He added that most of Nigerian companies today don’t pay up to IMO standard. In a case whereby they’re paying up to required standard the onus now lies on the seafarer to plan ahead before retirement but in situation where we’re feeding from hand to mouth the reverse is the case.
He revealed that seafarers face a lot of health related, physical, mental and emotional challenges on board.
“We’re faced with different weather conditions which dont favour us, the water tide, and the trouble of the sea and also exposed to chemicals. There’s also risk of falling overboard, fire hazard or slippery. There are also some people who have voluntarily retired because their immune and physical state can’t endure the nature of the job.
“We feel lonely on sea; we missed our family for months. It’s not an easy task; it’s like living the same pattern of life for 4 to 6 months. You keep repeating the same thing, seeing the same person for months, which results fatigue and people eventually gets tired mentally.”
Also speaking the Human Resources Manager of LTT Coastal & Marine Services Limited, Mrs. Theodora Nwaeze said it has been the vision of the company to train the first female ASD Tug boat captain and that eventually happened in person of Miss Canus Ebinipre Robinson.
She boosted the company have trained their captains from cadet-ship to maritime academy then to Officer of the Wash (OOW), after which they’re sent back to school to become Chief engineer and Maritime academy in Ghana for top master up to 500 gross tonnage.
She added the company is still going to train more in other for Nigerian seafarers have a suitable ground in the maritime sector.
Seafaring career is not just the responsibility of professional seafarers because to become a seafarer, an individual must have been gone through academic training and going onboard a vessel for practical experience.
In the Nigerian context, the onus lies on Nigerian Maritime Administration & Safety Agency (NIMASA) to train and issue certificates for seafarers to be able to compete globally. Research shows that NIMASA have been doing a lot of training for young people to become seafarers but the training is not enough without practical experience of sea time, and the sea time will not be possible without the ship owners making available ships for practical experience.
Ship owners must also create opportunities for seafarers to work on board a vessel and offshore. There are over 5000 vessels that call at nations ports in a year, industry watchers posit that if NIMASA can liaise with foreign vessels through the shipping companies or make it mandatory for any ship that call at the nations port to have at least one Nigerian seafarer on board their vessel. Thus they believe can translate into employment opportunity for 5000 Nigerian seafarers.
The ultimate goal is for the Nation to have its own national carrier because for countries that have national carrier, it is natural for them to create sea time experience for their seafarers and with issuance of certificate of competence after training, it’ll make them qualify to work in any part of the world. This is how countries like India, Philippines and other developing and developed countries have flood their nationals on board.