“50 percent of the trouble on our waters is caused by jobless seafarers"
Capt James Falabi is a maritime security expert and a marine consultant. He is also one of the brains behind the move to pass the Maritime Security Agency (MASECA) bill. He was part of a four-man team that was recently trained in the United States by the US Navy SEAL on a train-the-trainer weapon handling skill. In this Interview with Shipping Position Daily Correspondent Dapo Olawuni, he spoke on sundry issues including how to tackle challenges at the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) in Oron Akwa Ibom State.
“If you check the NIMASA registry, the place is filled with lawyers, you can not find one single professional there, you cannot even find a retired sailor, they are all lawyers”
What do you think could be done to address the challenges being faced at MAN, Oron?
When they shut the school down, I thought the organisation was going to be effective, but this was not so. Also, we have heard talks that they want to change the school into a maritime university, so I believe if there is any problem in MAN oron, then it should be management problem.
We have a lot of maritime experts in this country that can serve as lecturers in that place, I know so many Doctors, Marine Engineers, Naval Architects, Captains, Master Mariners and so on. So if they want to change MAN Oron into a university, it should not be a problem, the government should go ahead and do the needful, put a team together to run the school.
Are you aware the Minister set up a committee recently headed by Adebayo Sarumi to proffer solutions?
What is the antecedent of Sarumi? What was his achievement in NPA? If you are bringing somebody to restructure a place that person must have a track record, and if he doesn't have a good track record, then you must know that you would not get anything from him. So, what was Sarumi's achievement when he was in NPA? There was an NPA school back then, but what is the position of that school as at now? This is what he is planning for Oron too, you are bringing somebody who closed down his own training school to come and restructure another one, definitely he is going to close down MAN Oron too.
Cadets passing out from MAN Oron have been described as half-baked; some are even ‘okada’ riders
Do you have a national carrier? Or even a ‘state’ carrier? So, what do we have for these cadets to finish their training; after classroom, they must go back to the ship, but where is the ship? However, there is another way out, there is a way you can market your sailors and international bodies will come and look for them, but is this being done? So, in other words, what they are producing is rubbish, they cannot get what they want. I am even afraid for the youths because I wonder how they would be able to survive, the only way you can survive in this country is that after your training in Nigeria, you must find your way out of the country, that is the only way you can become somebody when it comes to maritime training.
How can we then market our seafarers?
If we want to market our seafarers, we have to create international acceptance for our certificates, this can be done by getting the safety administration on the UK to audit our certification system, if we can pass this UK audit system, definitely our certificate would be accepted by the UK, if we ask USA and Asian countries to come, definitely we would have a worldwide acceptance for our certificates. This is the way it is done, no man is an island on his own, you are running an institution and you are issuing a certificate that nobody knows the level of training you are giving, then how would they accept you, it means that what you are doing is local and not international.
The only way somebody can survive is if you go out and get yourself trained, or Nigerian government should make sure that what it is producing is the same thing internationally.
Despite the fact that there are no training vessels, maritime academies are springing up, do you think it is healthy?
I think it is good, there would be competition. However, there would be a regulatory body and ultimately, there is need for the Merchant Navy Directorate that would sanitise the system, the Directorate is yet to take up its responsibility, they can personally close down some of the institutions and give them standard to meet, the merchant Navy directorate is made up of retired Naval officers and professionals. Anybody that wants to produce quality, there must be a quality regulation body, so there must be a body regulating these institutions and this is the role of the merchant navy directorate to checkmate the various institutions, to look at their curriculum and also look at what they are dishing out to the student as well as look at what is the quality of the output of the students.
There is no problems with multiplicity of maritime institutions, even in the US, there are many maritime institutions, at the end of the day, it is what you produce that will give you the edge. Merchant Navy directorate regulating maritime academies is like taking over the job of NIMASA?
Does NIMASA have a body for education? Those that are issuing the certificate, are they doing anything? How often does NIMASA visit the school? Are they really concerned? Are they professionals? These are the questions we should be looking at, if you check the NIMASA registry, the place is filled with lawyers, you can not find one single professional there, you cannot even find a retired sailor, they are all lawyers. Recently, the DG set up a committee to review our ship registry, what is your advice on this?
Ship registration is about documentation and the safety department looks at the hull and machinery, the process is perfect in that way. But when we are talking about in-house checkmate, at least one or two professionals are supposed to be involved in the ship registry. What are we registering in Nigeria? What kind of vessels are we buying? We are not buying new ships; they only buy junks, so if the ship building and ship acquisition fund fails, then where are we? If we are not building ships, if we don’t have steel rolling mills and we don't have ship building yards, all we have is ship repair yards, it then means that we don't have a job. In this case, if a ship owner manages to bring in one junk that he calls a ship, we would not be able to reject it, if out of several investors, one person struggled to bring in one vessel, you would only accept him and celebrate. What is the way out for procuring a training vessel for our cadets?
When the Minister set up the committee to manage MAN Oron, the committee was supposed to have made a recommendation for at least one or two training vessels to have come in so that cadets can spend three months in the class room and three months onboard. As they set up MAN Oron, there should be two cargo vessels purchased for profitable trading, with this, the cadets would be able to go onboard while the vessel is trading, they would also be learning in the process. What is your take on the state of maritime security in Nigeria?
Nigeria has been labeled by the international community as a danger zone and this is why you cannot go and bring in an investor, the first issue they would look at is the security situation of that country, this is not good for Nigeria, it is bringing us backwards. I spoke earlier about ship building yards and steel rolling mills, if you want to bring in somebody to come and invest in that business, for now, nobody will follow you, but the moment the environment is secure, the country would be opened up for business and even tourism and this is the essence of maritime security. What we want to do is to make Nigeria safe again for any legitimate business man. The Maritime Security Bill will also provide jobs for jobless seafarers, 50 percent of the troubles on our waters is caused by jobless seafarers, if you hear of any security breach on our waters, when you trace it, you would find out that there are jobless professionals involved, they know their way around the water. But when we provide jobs for them and investors start coming in, the crime rate would be reduced to nothing; by then, we would only have internal issues to contend with and not coastal issues. Private security companies are making millions providing ship escorts, should this be abolished?
You cannot stop private security companies from operating, it is not the role of Nigerian Navy to escort vessels on the waters, when you give such a security job to the Nigerian Navy, you are putting a lot of stress and load on them, and this is why they have not been able to carry that load effectively. When the maritime security bill is passed, the security outfits would fade out gradually, it was because there was nobody taking up that role that gave room for their existence.