Seafarers in stormy waters

Posted by Chima Nwafo | 20 July 2018 | 3,304 times

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•Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron

Indications are clear that all is not well with Nigerian Seafarers. They are worried by low employment opportunities after their specialised training at the 40-year-old Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron, Akwa Ibom State. If that is tolerable given the unflattering performance of the economy, what irks them most is that even when employed, they are rated far lower than their expatriate counterparts with similar credentials. The irony, however, is that ship-owners equally complain of being compelled to hire expatiate seafarers at exorbitant cost. Perhaps, that is not peculiar to the maritime industry, as the spectre of unemployment and under-employment has become the nemesis of Nigerian workers, although it scaled the fence in the last three years. So also the choice of expatriates to locals in certain positions considered ‘technical’ by both indigenous and expatriate businessmen.

Again, there is something seemingly quirky the media men and non-stakeholders noticed. Whereas other industries operate labour unions – by junior staff, and professional associations by management staff – to cater for their welfare, the seafarers don’t seem to engage either. Unimpressed with the state of affairs in the industry, especially as it affects the Seafarers, the Alumni of Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron (AMAVON), decided to draw attention to the plight of its members through an industry-wide stakeholders’ engagement, with the theme: “Urgent Call to Re-Think Maritime Education and Training in Nigeria.” This central theme was divided into three topics ably delivered by three experts from the industry: one, an employer, who boasted of recently launching “100 per cent-Nigerian-manned vessel which flew the green-white-green flag all the way from China.” There were other contributors who spoke on the central theme but from diverse perspectives. Some seafarers highlighted sad experiences on board some indigenous ships they say do not comply with both local and international standards of the maritime industry. But during general discussion, it was surprising that the man whom the welfare of seafarers falls on his desk at NIMASA said he has not been briefed of some of their concerns at his Apapa office. And that they also have an office in Port Harcourt. No one contested his claim.

Another Seafarer narrated his ill-treatment by a vessel operator who used his expertise to deliver a ship. Unknown to him, contract arrangements had been concluded with a major oil company. As he narrated his woes at the event, he was neither employed by the vessel operator nor paid for his professional services. From contributions, it was obvious that the seafarers have a genuine case against employers. This compelled one of the few journalists o ask what actions they have taken to protest the perceived malpractices, including picketing such offending employers. A spokesman of the seafarers confessed that 80 per cent of his colleagues would not respond to protest invitation. But AMANO president, Engr Austine Ume Zurike, delivered a sharp response. He charged the media to conduct an investigation into the state of the maritime industry in Nigeria to see things for themselves. Really?

Specifically, some of the challenges facing maritime training and education in Nigeria include inadequate berthing facilities, funding, compliance and literacy. While the issue of funding is broadly discussed within the industry, it’s only as related to the acquisition of ships. The issue of financial burden for maritime education and training is generally believed to be the responsibility of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMAS). That raised a question: Can we fund ship acquisition and have no men and women to operate the vessels? Hence, ship-owners were asked to provide training facility for seafarers. A speaker noted: “Results achieved so far by our Flag Authority’s cabotage regime show clearly the need for government’s intervention in modern seafarer training and education: can we, therefore, set aside a part of the CVFF and dedicate this to the development of MTIs?”

On the dearth of maritime expertise, it was observed that “as the world fleet continues to increase along with vessel sophistication and versatility, the availability of qualified professionals to coordinate ship-to-shore operations is steadily diminishing, leaving companies operating in the maritime sector concerned about how they will continue to monitor and operate their assets safely.”

The commercial vessel operator regretted that “short supply of seafarers, especially for specialised vessels, such as chemical, LNG and LPG carriers, has reached alarming proportions, threatening the future of the industry globally.”

“For Nigeria”, the ship-owner observed, “manpower supply challenges of the maritime industry has also reached an alarming proportion such that companies have resorted to hiring foreign professionals at exorbitant salaries to operate their vessels and manage their shore-based establishments. In the past, the first generation of Nigerian maritime professionals were respected members of the maritime community and contributed significantly to the growth of the industry. Sadly, their place has been taken over by an army of half-baked, often unemployable graduates who are turned out yearly by the industry, primarily because of the dearth of adequate training institutions and absence of platforms for sea-time training.”

But indigenous seafarers complain of being offered salaries far lower than their expatriate counterparts.

On the way forward, a training expert opined: “Most of the institutions the older seafarers among us attended had training equipment that was adequate for that time, and it introduced us to life at sea: you knew what you were signing up to before you stepped on the ship. Our training was in phases and you couldn’t bypass the process, or apply a short-cut,” asking: “Are our maritime training institutions adequately equipped to do the same today? Do we have a national seafarer training program/career path?

“In today’s shipping, technology has taken over the functions of the old seafarer. Controversial as this may sound, the best way forward will be to teach the basics in Nautical Science, Marine Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Hotel Services. This should be strengthened with adequate exposure to modern tools of the trade. Given that ships now carry less crew; training slots have become much fewer. As a result, simulator training is now needed to make up for the loss of dedicated ship-board trainers.”

However, as speakers and conveners canvassed their views, one remarkable contribution was delivered a representative of the Chief of Naval Staff at the event. He berated public institutions and parastatals for inter-agency competition for allocations from the Federal Government, rather than creating avenues for internal revenue generation. Much as the suave and soft-spoken Navy Captain would not disclose Nigerian Navy’s instances of IGR, an insider confirmed that such drive explains why the former Naval Dockyard, Apapa, is now a limited liability company. The significance of that revelation is: Certain arms of the Armed Forces can, based on their expertise, operate a commercial building and construction company.

•Nwafo, Features Editor, News Express Online, can be reached on; 080 2933 4754

Source: News Express

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