"Even if we have a training ship today, it could not be enough to train the accumulated graduated cadets for sea time"
Dr. Reuben Ovai is the Rector, Stars Maritime Academy located in the Otta area of Ogun State. In this interview with Shipping Position Daily correspondent Dapo Olawuni, he advised that the best way out of the challenge of sea time training for cadets is for the federal government to enter into a trade agreement with the Nigerian shipowners and the academies. He also e advised that shipowners should be allowed to lift Nigerian crude and they should in-turn be mandated to train cadets.
"NIMASA by regulation is only allowed to accredit institutions to run STCW"
Despite lack of jobs, maritime academies are still churning out seafarers, how can we address the challenge of employment?
I think I am the appropriate person that can answer that question, but I will answer the question by saying that in life, there is a weeding process, that is why we cannot stop human beings from giving birth to children, even if the country is over-populated or not. Let's come back to the educational sector, would you now say that because there is no job, you would stop training graduates? If you dare do that, you are creating a gap and the gap will be hard to fill in the future. So in order not to create a gap that will be hard to fill in the future, there is need for continuous training. The lack of jobs have contributed to so many factors, I am one of those that believe that the government is not an employer of majority of professionals in any set up, but is the private sector that employs more, so there is need for the government to put in place policies that will help the private sector to grow and absolve these labour. Because we are tired of making reference to the floating of the National Shipping Line, if this would not work, there is an alternative, let’s look at other countries, it is not their national shipping line that is keeping the employment level of these countries, it is the private sector. In Nigeria here, we have various associations of ship owners, the government should encourage them to acquire vessels and platforms so that they can absolve Nigerians, this is the only way out. In Nigeria we have the laws, but the problem has always been implementation, we have the vessel acquisition fund, we have the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF) and all these funds are there, they are not disbursed, I hear the excuse being given by various government organisations that when you give this loan, investor will misuse it, the simple solution to this problem is for government to be directly involved in the acquisition of the vessel and payback of the loan.
Another reason I would not support the notion that we should stop training seafarers is that, in all sectors, not only in the maritime, there is unemployment and yet the universities have not stopped training graduates, so why should the maritime sector be different. The maritime sector also has an advantage in that not all mariners trained in Nigeria or outside Nigeria are mandated to work in Nigeria, the sector is open worldwide. For instance, most of my students are working outside Nigeria, so it is a sector where you can explore other places and get yourself engaged. What is the alternative to establishment of the national carrier since the Nigerian shipowners do not have the 40% equity required to float it?If the national carrier is supposed to be on the basis of public private partnership, since the Nigerian shipowners cannot afford the required 40% of the money, government should look at the operators who are already on ground and see how they could be encouraged, and if there is none, can't the government float a national shipping line, then had over the management to a private regulated sector, just like what we did to our various ports, formerly the ports were under government's control but they were later given to private individuals, this is why government no longer have problems with the port. So, why can't they float the national shipping line and sublet it to the private sector, this could be another alternative. Apart from lack of jobs, training vessel is a challenge for seafarers
The acquisition of a training vessel is capital intensive, the cost of sailing a vessel is there, the cost of depreciation, maintenance and running costs are there, a vessel is just like any other property, if you leave it dormant, it will be depreciating on its own, so the next thing now is that there is need for a stakeholders’ meeting between the shipowners, government representatives, and the schools. The government should encourage ship owners to acquire vessels with a mandate to train Nigerian seafarers; these seafarers they train are later coming back to them as workforce. Also, the schools should be in the same meeting so that they can be contributing their quota for cadets meant for sea time training.
This is the only alternative, because even if you have a training ship, it could not be enough to train the accumulated cadets for sea term, so the alternative remains an alignment between shipowners, the government and the training institutions. In other parts of the world, every ship owner contributes to the sector by taking in cadets, so ours should not be an exemption, it seems as if it is a free deal but it is not, one day, the ship owners will need these cadets to captain their vessels or become the chief engineer. I have been in a meeting where the shipowners agreed to do all these, but they are incapacitated in one way or the other, the fact is this; why is it that they are not allowed to carry certain cargoes? A ship owner is a business man and his business is to carry cargoes, but if there are no cargoes, how will he flourish? But the government is supposed to help him. From IMO through the United Nations, we have the UNCTAD cargo sharing formula of 40-40-20, but the 40percent belonging to Nigerians are not being carried by the shipowners. I was told that the NNPC was claiming that Nigerian ships cannot carry crude because they are not up to standard. The NNPC should encourage shipowners to hire standard vessels, if their vessels are not up to standard, give them the leverage to higher standard ones so as to participate in crude carriage, all what the ship owner needs is the contract, NNPC should monitor and ensure they deliver the contract, this is the only way we can help the sector to grow. Who regulates private maritime academies, is it NIMASA or Directorate of Merchant Navy?
An academy is an educational institution, and the body saddled with the regulation of education in Nigeria is the Ministry of Education, under them, they have parastatals to undertake the task; NUC for Universities and NBTE for Polytechnic's and Mono techniques.
NIMASA by regulation is only allowed to accredit institutions to run Standard of Training and Watch Keeping STCW 2010 as amended, this is what they are assigned to regulate as far as training is concerned, but there is always this confusion because if NIMASA approves you and not the Ministry of Education, can you issue a diploma? Nobody will accept such a degree or diploma, let the public be enlightened that it is only the Federal Ministry of Education through its parastatals that has rights to approve academies. Academies are empowered to put up mandatory courses, but before they do that, they are to be approved by NIMASA, the rules are there, even if you go to NIMASA they will tell you they do not approve academic programmes but professional programmes. The mandatory courses are the one that the IMO has designed for all seafarers to have, these are five simple courses that irrespective of your profession, whether you are a cook, a steward, a nautical or navigator, you must go through these courses.
The directorate of merchant navy on the other hand is kind of an association of seafarers, you cannot be a seafarer until you are trained. But in order to ensure that it is not a free for all affair, there is need for a directorate, and this directorate are supposed to liaise with all the government approved schools so that as the cadets pass out of these schools, they would also be aware, this is the source of their membership, these cadets later become merchant navy officers and master mariners.
How are you dealing with it harassment from the Nigerian Navy, and how do you ensure that your cadets don't impersonate?
From my little experience, whosoever is dealing with the public should be ready to deal with various characters; there would be the good, the bad and the ugly, irrespective of the organisation. So in a training school, there are meant to be bad eggs. But in every school, there is an identity card to indicate where you come from, so the issue of differentiation or impersonation does not arise. Nevertheless, there is supposed to be a synergy among all of us, if you catch anyone impersonating, try and get to the school and we would trace out the person. In terms of uniform, we have tried as much as possible to differentiate our uniform from that of Nigerian Navy to reduce clashes, I have a team of officers that paid me a visit some time ago and they narrated their own side of the story, and as a reasonable persons, there is need for us to put certain things in place to avoid these clashes. The MLC 2006 is yet to take effect in Nigeria, what do you think is wrong?
One thing is to accept a convention, another thing is to implement the convention, before you implement a convention, you have to look at the situation prevailing in your environment, in Nigeria today, we are crying of our seafarers not having jobs to do, and you are thinking of them increasing the wages, where should they get the money? In order words, it means that the MLC convention is not feasible for now. MAN Oron has been in the eye of the storm recently, what advice will you give to the new management?
My take on the crisis in the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron has always been that, MAN Oron should be handed over to the Federal Ministry of Education because it is an educational institution and all other educational institutions are under the ministry of education and they have been running smoothly, if MAN oron is only educational institution in the maritime sector, while is it not being handled by them in order to avoid all these crises, the ministry of education should regard the academy as one of their own and they would administer it like others. But in a situation whereby there is so much attention on MAN Oron, it means that there is something there that everyone is jostling for and this is why the crisis would not stop until the right thing is done.