Even though they harped on the fact that they are already ageing, gradually dropping anchor and eagerly desires to see a new crop of master mariners take command, they still exchanged banters like teenagers in search of future and fun that sunny Thursday afternoon. This media interaction held less than 48 hours before their general meeting which ushered- in a new set of executives. They are members of the Nigerian Association of Master Mariners. Led by the (now) immediate past president, Captain Adewale Ishola, virtually all those who were in attendance bared their minds on the sundry issues that came up. Shipping Position Weekly was their as the Captains prophetically expressed the wish that one day, a professional would take charge of affairs of the nation’s maritime sector. How prophetic indeed.
Are you by any means suggesting that government should float another shipping line?
It was not only NNSL that was training, we had a lot of private companies that were training cadets and we will say that at that particular time a lot were trained. But of course, the death of shipping lines is not only in Nigeria, it cut across the whole of West Africa; all the national lines went aground. Now you are asking: what do we do? Do you ask government to provide another shipping line, just for training; don’t forget that we had a training school within the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) that carried about 30 cadets. But, the main problem now is to say: let us have a shipping company, it must be productive, it can not be for the purpose of just putting cadets; it must be totally commercial. If we say let’s float a shipping company just for training, we have to look at the commercial aspect of it. Can we ask the government to run a shipping company now when the competition for the cargo is so stiff? Yes, we can raise a shipping company, but we will raise a shipping company that has that cargo to load and the best cargo that we can say let the shipping company have should be oil and gas. That is why the Cabotage law is there, the cargo is ours, let us give it to the indigenous companies to carry; then they will train cadets.
What is the Nigerian Association of Master Mariners doing to address the situation?
The Cabotage law is there and we still have lots of vessels operating in Nigeria. What we can do is to take advantage of the Cabotage law and ensure that most of the trainees coming from our Nautical colleges and schools of oceanography are put on vessels or even rigs. If we tap on that, we can have the different types of training, we have anchor handling vessels, supply vessels, we have some coastal tankers and more. This type of process exists in other parts of the world like Malaysia, so we are not really re-inventing the wheel, we just want to make sure that we provide means of training for cadets that leave our nautical colleges and we also find a means of finding replacement for ourselves.
How do we get around this and solve the problem?
Look at the government of Iran; they trade on the type of cargo that they know they control. If Nigeria has 30 tankers today, definitely that is a source of training. If we say, okay, let us go to container vessels, it will take us 35 years to enter the market because we have big guys that can offer the logistics, not only about big ships moving up and down, but also, the logistics to drop it at your door step, they have it and you will go for them. Cabotage can provide the base for training; it’s really a base for training. But, since it came up, the actual thing has been: I will give you waiver because I don’t have a captain from Nigeria. But, the argument should have been: as I am giving you that waiver, tell me how many you can train in one year. That has not followed Cabotage, its just waiver, waiver and waiver.
You have been talking about training of more manpower, but we know that a lot of seafarers are unemployed
Nigeria is not training for local market, we are training for international market, the jobs are there and about 27,000 officers will be needed by the year 2015 in the international market, so the job is there.
As master mariners, what are you doing to get our cadets on board for the requisite sea training?
The first thing is to ensure that they get a sound basic training. We have the Maritime Academy, Oron and a lot of master mariners have been pushing that that institution becomes an outstanding one; that whatever certificate that is issued is acceptable internationally. But, I tell you, all around the world the government has no hand in the running of nautical academies, government’s participation in nautical schools is no longer there; the people that really run nautical schools in terms of donations in terms of equipment and in terms of lecturers are the end users – the shipyard, the ship owners – they are the ones. But any school that is run by the government is going to go through the same bureaucracy of government. And again, there is a great deal of difference between universities in Nigeria and maritime academies. A maritime academy is on international level; if you don’t perform, they won’t take your cadets, if the school is not up to standard, they don’t take your products. That is the problem.
What are you doing about Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron?
Master mariners have once been out to train the younger ones, we had a lot of master mariners lecturing at the Maritime Academy, Oron, but because of government interference, they have all gone to the oil companies. We can count more than 10, we wanted to assist, because as a master mariner the only thing you can do is to assist the young ones that are coming up, we went there to lecture, but the conditions there were not favourable. Government interference does not allow that college to move, it’s not a question of “oh it’s an academy, it must be run this way”, you have to run it based on international requirements.
What is your association doing about using professionals in the management of the maritime industry?
Master mariners are not politicians; unfortunately. A master mariner is that character who finishes his job and goes to bed by eight o’clock. They don’t know how to lobby. We’ve approached some ministers that they were excellent; those that were looking for value, we went as a body, we go out to see what is happening in the world, this is were we all grow up, this is what we want, okay if its what you want this is this, this is that, we assist. But of course, we can’t talk as a politician there is a lot against you in terms of how to do it. Because, to move a ship from here to Port Harcourt, you don’t need a politician to say, please, when I get there open the gate for me, you do it professionally. We have tried to assist but well, are the people ready to listen? We put a lot of suggestions to the ministry about how things should be. I will give you an example. There was an issue that the association took up. I am sure that you heard about the crane of Maersk Line that went into water sometime ago, the association took it up, because we don’t hear that sort of thing in Nigeria and if it does happen as an accident, there are procedures. The association wrote the ministry and the ministry took action. We try to get to those that will listen. Now the President says professionalism and now we are coming up again. If the association can assist, fair enough. But, the fact is that we are not quiet, we are pushing.
(To be concluded)