Ensuring Seafarers’ Welfare

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Eromosele Abiodun writes that the commitment by Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency to ensure the safety, welfare and training of seafarers in the country is commendable

Shipping is an industry that contributes over 90 per cent to the world economy. There are about 51,400 merchant ships operating all over the world, transferring goods between places, keeping the economy running. Whether it is oil from the Gulf or iPhones in containers being delivered from one part of the world to another, everything is running round the clock, with precision and diligence.
Who are the people responsible for this non-stop action? While the shipbrokers and the charterers and the owners take care of the financial aspects backing the viability of the trade, the seafarers are the ones executing it in real life aspect. The trade is only so good when the product is delivered safe and on time to the receiver, and seafarers ensure that Sundays or public holidays notwithstanding. Seafarers do not understand the concept, rather cannot be allowed to understand the concept of Sundays because someone, somewhere, is in need of a product that must be delivered clean and on time.

Also, nations are fuelled by gas and to make it clearer, the shortage of oil supply because of a stalled ship can cause chaos.
The job of seafarers involve years of rigorous training in mastering the aspects of navigation, cargo work and ship operations and the everyday precise application of it.

It is a known fact that more than 90 per cent of the world trade is carried by ships and these ships are manned and operated by seafarers. Hence, it can be safely said that 90 per cent of mankind’s needs are being served by directly or indirectly by seafarers.

Experts believe that with the recent advancements in technology wherein ships are gradually moving towards being unmanned, this could be deemed as a threat to the seafaring profession.
While it might affect the profession in some way, leading practitioners are optimistic that the years of theoretical knowledge, practical applications, and experience at sea can never be replaced by a machine or a controller sitting cozy in an air conditioned office a few kilometres from home.

The sea and winds, they argued, do not always follow the predicted patterns adding that the human angle to shipping will always be invaluable.
They added that the expertise gained over the years trumps any new challenges to the profession making the seafarer is indispensable.

The Nigerian situation
However, as critical as seafarers are to the nation, the practitioners are often treated shabbily by ship owners who are mostly the employers of seafarers. There is a gradually shit, however, as concerned stakeholders makes moves to ensure adequate welfare of seafarer
Meanwhile, in a bid to ensure sanity in the relationship between ship owners and seafarers, the federal government has threatened to sanction ship owners who default in the implementation of the contributory pension scheme for seafarers.

Speaking at the 2018 Day of the Seafarers celebration with the theme: “Seafarers’ wellbeing,” held in Warri, Delta State, the Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr Dakuku Peterside urged the employers of seafarers to ensure that they implement the contributory pension scheme for their workers, threatening to report erring employers to the Pension Commission for appropriate sanctions.

Peterside said: “The National Joint industrial Council (NJlC) has concluded negotiations on the conditions of service of Nigerian Seafarers, including the minimum wages payable to all categories of seafarers. It is expected that the agreement will be signed by all parties on the 28th of June, 20l8. In this regard, l wish to assure you that the agency will go the whole length in ensuring that the collective bargaining agreement CBA is implemented as agreed.

“The ‘Day of The Seafarer,’ which is celebrated all over the world on the 25th of June every year, started eight years ago following the resolution adopted by the 2010 diplomatic conference in Manila, Philippines to adopt the STCW Convention. This year’s theme is Seafarers’ “wellbeing” with particular focus on their mental health.”

Peterside added: “It is believed that by addressing the issue of seafarers wellbeing and particularly their mental health, all other issues affecting their mental conditions such as stress and depression could effectively be tackled through the adoption of effective strategies in this regard.”

He called on all employers to ensure the promotion of lLO’s decent work Agenda which aims at promoting the workers mental health and wellbeing.
“There is no doubt that Nigerians Seafarers are faced with a lot of challenges that are work related and bordering on depression arising from lack of job opportunities and long hours of work without commensurate pay. In most cases the seafarers work under strenuous conditions which they are subjected to by their employers. As an agency saddled with the responsibility of regulating the activities of all maritime labour employers and their employees, we remain committed to making Nigeria a hub of maritime activities by ensuring that our waters are safe for navigation and the ships operating on our waters maintain a high safety standard,” he said.

Peterside noted that the Nigerian seafarers ranks among the best in the world and can favourably compete with their foreign counterparts.
Accordingly, the NIMASA boss this is why the agency in the past few years embarked on the training and retraining of Nigerian Seafarers and Cadets in specialised maritime courses both locally and internationally, which is aimed at enhancing their competences and employability.

Speaking further, Peterside, who reiterated the agency’s commitment to ensuring a better living condition for the seafarers in line with the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Decent Work Agenda gave the assurance that the agency will continue to make issues concerning the seafarers a priority.

He also highlighted the importance of the ILO’s Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006 which he said Nigerian ratified in 2013, stating that it made adequate provisions for seafarers’ welfare which if fully implemented will also guarantee their wellbeing.

“As the competent authority for the implementation of all IMO and ILO conventions, NIMASA has diligently commenced the implementation of the convention in Nigeria from the time it entered into force in 2014 till date, through the conduct of port and flag inspections on board vessels operating in our waters,”the NIMASA boss said.

Decent Work Agenda
While acknowledging the fact that the Nigerian seafarers are faced with lots of challenges that are work related, Peterside used the opportunity to urge all employers to ensure the promotion of ILO’s Decent Work Agenda, which aims at promoting the workers mental health and wellbeing.
He also stated that as part of the agency’s commitment to training and retraining of the seafarers to enhance professionalism in the sector, the Agency has so far trained over 2000 cadets under the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP). This is in addition to those who have already undergone their mandatory sea time training, 500 have been earmarked for sea time training in 2018 fiscal year, while another 500 will undergo the training in 2019.
Peterside added that 150 fresh cadets will benefit from the programme under the NSDP which will commence in the next academic session.

“On the other hand, the agency in May this year facilitated the training of 370 Nigerian seafarers in relevant courses leading to certifications on Standards of Training Certifications (STCW), Oil Tanker Familiarization, Security Awareness (ISPS) Code, Proficiency in Survival Craft and Rescue Boats (PSCRB) and Dynamic Positioning,” he said.
Also, he hinted that another 560 dockworkers benefitted from the training programme on occupational safety and health which was developed in line with the ILO’s code of practice OSH.
“All these are geared toward realizing a robust maritime sector in line with international regulations,” Peterside said.

Economic Importance
In his keynote address, the Governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa stated that the efficiency and effectiveness of the Nigerian economy depends largely on the maritime sector as over 90 per cent of the world trade are transported through the sea.
Okowa also commended NIMASA for its efforts and determination to ensure that Nigeria is reckoned with in the international maritime domain.

The governor, who was represented by the Deputy Governor of the state, Kingsley Otuaro further applauded the initiative of the establishment of the Nigerian Maritime University (NMU), which is the first specialised in Africa and expressed the readiness of the State to partner the agency in actualising the vision behind the establishment of the institution.
“As a state, we are prepared to support and partner NIMASA and the Federal Government of Nigeria to ensure the underlying motive of establishing the maritime university is achieved. We are also certain that the university, undoubtedly, will be a source of training more seafarers and adding more commercial value to the Nigerian economy” the governor said.

Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Hassan Bello, expressed his support for improved well being of seafarers, noting that the role of seafarers cannot be underrated, considering their contributions to global seaborne trade.

At the event, President General of the Maritime Workers Union (MWUN), represented by the Secretary General, Felix Akingboye; the Chairman, Ports Consultative Council, Chief Kunle Folarin; President of the Seamen and Water Transport Branch of the Maritime Workers’ Union, Francis Bunu and other stakeholders, who hailed NIMASA for its efforts in ensuring that the welfare of the seafarers is taken into proper consideration.

The Day of the seafarers is a day celebrated all over the world on the 25th of June yearly, following the resolution adopted by the 2010 diplomatic conference in Manila, Philippines to adopt the STCW Convention.