What has now become an annual ritual of celebrating the world’s seafarers actually started in 2010. It was in that year that the Diplomatic Conference which met in Manila, Philippines to adopt milestone revisions to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW Convention) and its associated Code, also agreed that the unique contribution made by seafarers from all over the world to international seaborne trade, the world economy and civil society as a whole, should be marked annually with a ‘Day of the Seafarer’. The date chosen was June 25 of every year, the day on which the amendments were formally adopted.
Last week, the duo of Nigerian Merchant Navy and Water Transport Senior Staff Association , as well as the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria held symbolic programme to herald this year’s Seafarer Day, which was last Saturday. We expect more of such this week, as maritime stakeholders will once again celebrate the nation’s seafarers.
According to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the objectives of the day include: increasing awareness among the general public of the indispensable services you render to international seaborne trade, the world economy and society at large. It’s also meant as a day to send a clear message to all seafarers that they are recognised and appreciated; that the world understands the extraordinary conditions and circumstances of seafaring, that the world cares about them and that they will be protected whenever the circumstances of life at sea so warrant.
Apart from the above, the World Seafarers’ Day is also set aside as a day to redouble efforts at the regulatory level to create a better, safer and more secure world for the professionals.
According to the IMO, this year’s campaign has as its theme: Your voyage – then and now, share your journey. This is because, “very seafarer’s journey is different, but they all face similar challenges”.
And back to Nigeria, where the day has always enjoyed prominence. We say that, irrespective of their current rating and travails within the nation’s maritime sector, Nigerian seafarers are arguably an important stakeholder. One can hardly forget how respectable it was to be a seafarer up till the mid-1990s; that was before the liquidation of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL).
From available statistics, more than 5,000 Cadets have graduated from the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN), in Oron, Akwa Ibom state. Apart from MAN Oron, there are thousands of cadets who have also graduated from institutions such as the College of Fisheries and Marine Technology in Lagos. All these cadets contribute to the large pool of unemployed and unemployable graduates of nautical academies that Nigeria now parades.
The reality is that Nigeria is a country where thousands of seafarers are either unemployed or under employed, where the ship registry is depleting by the day.
A lot of people have blamed the current travails of the Nigerian seafarer on government and by extension, NIMASA, which is the implementing agency for maritime labour. Without mincing words, NIMASA has not done enough to boost the marketability of emerging seafarers, this it would have done by ensuring that the Maritime Academy of Nigeria in Oron, Akwa Ibom state is well-funded.
But rather than do this, it is funding some maritime institutes in universities and also sending young Nigerians to foreign maritime academies for training in nautical sciences and marine engineering, under the National Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP).
Without mincing words, NIMASA has not done enough to boost the employability of emerging seafarers. This it would have done by ensuring that the Maritime Academy of Nigeria is well-funded. A robust programme of sea time for graduating seafarers would have helped too……
The Nigerian seafarer is perhaps the most ‘unfortunate’ in Africa. While Nigeria prides itself as a maritime nation, it has no ships, except a handful of service and offshore crafts and old tankers.
We recall that, after questions were asked about the issue of seatime, the then-Director General of NIMASA; Dr Dakuku Peterside promised that the agency would provide sea time experience for the cadets who had finished their training in the Philippines. He assured them that modalities had been put in place to ensure that they have access to the necessary sea time experience that will make them complete seafarers.
This remains a promise, yet to be fulfilled, and his successor; Dr Bashir Jamoh has not done better. The promise of seatime remains a promise, because Nigeria does not have the ships on which the cadets can train. There are a few supply boats, and this is why some cadets seek help at jetties and in other places. They are not ignorant of the fact that such places can’t pass for sea time experience; they just want to be at sea!
The nation’s seafarers have degenerated so badly from the glorious days of the NNSL. But even if there is no national carrier anymore, can’t the nation’s maritime managers think of other ways to make our seafarers employed, by first making sure that they are employable. It is a shame that the Certificates being paraded by majority of Nigerian seafarers have ‘limited’ scope.
It is a shame that Nigeria no longer parades world-class seafarers; she no longer owns high tonnage ships. But even if we no longer own ships, the abundance of budding and qualified seafarers should propel government to guarantee secured employment for them. This, in our opinion should be the essence of the ‘seafarers’ day’.
As we (once again) celebrate the seafarers’ day, we join millions of users of the services of the world seafarers to say a very big thank you to all of them, because without them there can be no commerce. The world’s seafarers sacrifice the comfort of their homes and family and face months of hazard and loneliness of the sea.
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