"The crime committed at sea is an organized crime”
Captain Alfred Oniye is the Secretary-General of the Nigerian Merchant Navy Directorate. In this interview with Anozie Egole, he explained why the directorate was floated. He also said that the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is not living up to its responsibilities in the maritime sector.
“Why is NIMASA training seafarer outside the country? Why can’t they invest that money in MAN Oron, College of Oceanography and other maritime university here?”
What is your appraisal of the Nigerian maritime industry in the first half of 2018, are we making progress?
We are not making progress; things are getting worst every day in the country especially the maritime sector. More seafarers are coming out of academies every year and there is no job, most of them are in the prison for crimes they know nothing about, it is really telling on us and the country because when you don’t know that the seafarers’ matter, definitely you want to sink the entire country. Maritime controls over 90% of Nigeria’s economy and when that aspect of the country is not well taken care of, indirectly you are sinking the country and that is exactly what we are doing. This is one of the reasons the Merchant Navy Directorate is to step up its games and our mission is to rebrand the Nigerian economy through the maritime industry and that is exactly what we are pursuing, to see how we can get this country back to its feet, to see how the maritime industry will work again because, over 80% of Nigerian seafarers are jobless and the country is doing nothing about it.
Let me be blunt with you, NIMASA has failed and we don’t see NIMASA solving this problem because you cannot solve a problem you don’t have solution to, you cannot carry out an assignment that you are not trained to do. NIMASA doesn’t have solution to the problem on ground , because they are not professionals. So, you cannot keep calling on them because they cannot solve the problem, the game on ground now is for us as seafarers to step up our games and see how we can solve this problem and call NIMASA to order, teach them what they need to do. Over 80% of them are not seafarers; can you drive a car when you are not a driver? So, that is the problem and it is like the problem is getting worse every day. Talk about security, safety, certification, training all these are at zero level, so we are not progressing.
Many seafarers don't have certificates, what is your advice to them?
Let NIMASA upgrade our certificates, if those aspects are not well dealt with, we will keep losing money to foreigners. For a certificate that you can give them here, seafarers would still go abroad and spend huge amount of money to be retrained, and they still come back here for NIMASA to still endorse the same certificate, it doesn’t make sense. Why is NIMASA training seafarer outside the country? Why can’t they invest that money in MAN Oron, College of Oceanography and other maritime university here? If you invest here, it will create more jobs and empower people. They know what to do but the truth still remains that they don’t have the idea; they don’t even know where they are going to.
In terms of training, NSDP has been running for years now, what is your assessment of the programme?
It is zero level, you are training people you don’t have jobs for, before NIMASA started training, we have over 70% seafarers that are jobless, even MAN Oron, 2003-2005 graduates up till now have not gotten jobs. Then, NIMASA now added to over 70% of them making over 80% that are jobless, so when you train them and you are bringing them back to this industry where there are no jobs, what are you trying to do? I can boldly tell you that NIMASA is encouraging insecurity because some of these guys are Ex-militants and when you train them they will be more professionals and they will come back and commit more harm when there are no jobs to do.
Militants are not terrorists, let me be sincere with you, they are survivors; ask any ship owner whenever they attack your vessel, they will kidnap the crew, you will pay them and they will release to you your crew. They want to survive, they want to work, tell government to create jobs; that is what we are saying. We talk about jobs that are meant for Nigerian flagged vessels, you see foreign vessels doing the job. Now, when these jobs are not given to Nigerian ships, how do you expect them to pay the Nigerian crew on board?
The allegation is that most of Nigerian vessel owners do not have standard ships and they maltreat the seafarers the more
They will, because most of them are just trying to survive, the system is not encouraging them, that is just the basic truth, and that is why this platform (Merchant Navy Directorate) brings both the ship owners and the seafarers together, let us discuss the problem and look at the way forward. Even though the system is not encouraging the ship owners, if you float a vessel for three months without contract , it will take them one year for them to get back on stage. Now you float a vessel for three months, imagine you will pay the crew, feeding, fueling, propeller most roll, how will they survive? Because the contract that is meant for them is going to foreign vessels, what are we talking about? How will they pay the crew and seafarers, the game on ground is that NIMASA is at a zero level that is all I will keep saying.
On the issue of security, the government is saying that armed security men should not be on board vessels, what does it mean to seafarers?
Whoever uttered that statement should be investigated because Nigerian Navy alone cannot do this job, they cannot secure the water, even in the US, the US Navy, US Marine, Coast Guard and they still have private security on board who carry arms, and you are saying that private security should not be encouraged to carry arms on our waters, can the Nigerian Navy do the job? Now the Navy has abandoned their statutory duty; doing a job of private maritime security, private security will collect the contract and they will employ the Nigerian Navy to do the job. Whilst they abandoned their statutory duty, our coastline is open, you see pirates coming in and go back freely, nobody stops them because those who are supposed to stop them are busy doing private security jobs.
So, whoever uttered that statement should be investigated probably; he has a lot to say about the insecurity on Nigerian waters, because I think what we should be talking about is how to beef up security and not how to reduce security, because security is about carrying arms and sharing information. Whoever utters that statement knows nothing about security.
What is the collaboration like, between Merchant Navy and the Nigerian Navy?
The sea, water and the fish need to be together, a fish cannot survive without water, let me be blunt with you, Nigerian Navy cannot secure that water and they cannot carry out their work, their statutory duty effectively without the collaboration of the Merchant Navy. Merchant Navy sees more than them, before it happens, we know, so they need us to secure the waters, it is what you see that you will pursue. So the synergy needs to be there if they need security on the water, we are certified navigators, we see before it happens, the same Nigerian Navy was formed out of the merchant navy. So a child cannot wake up one day and say he or she knows more than the mother. So, it is not a game of today and we are saying these two bodies need to come together and make this country work. Now, you will agree with me that the fake Nigerian Navy is more than the real Nigerian Navy and the fake merchant navy is more than the real merchant navy and that is the reason we gave birth to the merchant navy directorate so that we can sanitize this industry. It will take a navy official to know the real officer and it will also take a merchant navy officer to be able to detect who is a fake officer, the two bodies need to come together. The Nigerian Navy and Merchant Navy need to come together to sanitize this industry, I have never seen where a merchant navy is putting on camouflage, Ihave never seen where a merchant Navy globally will call himself a sub lieutenant , or lieutenant commander and all that, where did you get that from?
Are you aware that some seafarers do connive at sea to siphon petroleum products?
When you talk about illegality, you can’t push it aside that is the reason why we (Merchant Navy Directorate) came on board so that we can checkmate illegality in the job. Mind you, when you are talking about crimes being committed at sea, the first thing remain that seafarers alone cannot do that job, it is not possible for seafarers alone to steal on the water without the collaboration of some security men themselves, the crime committed at sea is an organized crime, marine police will be carried along, Navy; DSS all of them will be carried along because there is no way you can do it without their collaboration. So, when you are talking about crime, you will involve all of them, the man that is supposed to enforce Cabotage Law, when he comes there instead of enforcing it, he will collect money and go, so, is it the seafarers that is committing the crime alone? the answer is NO, the man who saw you when you went to load the illegal product at the creek and when you were going out the only thing he did was to come on board your vessel and collect money, is it only merchant navy that is doing the thing, no they are doing it together.
This Nigerian Merchant Navy Senior Staff has kicked against the establishment of Merchant Navy Directorate, they say it is illegal
The Nigerian Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Senior Staff Association is a union and I am still a member and I still remain the Vice Chairman, Shipping Zonal Council of the association. It is a union for the officers, it is not a formation, we are recognized by the global law, go anywhere, what you would see is "Merchant Navy" not "Nigerian Merchant Navy". So, that group is a union of all the officers that come together to look at the welfare of the officers, it is not a formation, it is a union not a formation. But Merchant Navy Directorate is a formation that brings all the bodies together, both the ship-owners, to look into the problem and to solve the maritime problems. So, they are a union and we are a formation, these are two different things. I still remain a member of that union, I am still the vice chairman until the next election. I am the secretary general of the Merchant Navy Directorate in Nigeria, some members of Nigerian Merchant Navy Association are also members of the directorate.