The seafarer’s role in the maritime industry is a complex and a highly crucial one. Call him/her the unsung hero of maritime and you won’t be wrong. He/she is probably the most important component of the maritime value chain, perhaps second only to the ship that serves as the vehicle that enables the industry to operate. But because of the general ignorance of his/her role, the seafarer’s importance in the industry is often downplayed, if not totally ignored.
The nature of the ship, the routes through which it moves, especially the environment it must go through are all filled with dangers that may not be foreseen before commencement of the trip. For anybody that works in the ship, it is exposure to danger on all fronts.
If an aircraft crashes at any stage of its trip – whether during takeoff, in flight or during landing – it crashes to the ground. There may be chances of survival for those on board, depending on the area the crash occurs and possibility of rescue coming from people on ground, like the fire service. This is not the case for a maritime accident, which could occur at sea where there may be no possibility of rescue or protection from any hazard.
Because of the complexity of the maritime business and the risks involved, shipping all over the world has been provided with a lot of complimentary services. This is due to the understanding of stakeholders that despite the challenges and risks, shipping has the greatest impact on world trade and, by extension, the economic survival of humanity and nations.
It is the only business that carries goods in large volumes and moves those goods around the world without any trouble and at a cheaper price in terms of threat, stealing and loss. It safeguards and guarantees protection of goods, ensuring they get to their destinations with ease. Irrespective of the type of cargo ships carry, whether specialized cargo in terms of fully refrigerated cargo, dry cargo, etc., the ships have those who take care of everything that is associated with the trip. These people are seafarers.
While owners of cargoes are sleeping in the comfort of their houses, seafarers are busy on the high seas travelling around the world moving from one destination to another, sometimes for months. They ensure the safety of goods ranging from vehicles to agricultural and industrial products, medical supplies, household appliances, manufacturing equipment, etc.
Seafarers leave their families, comfort and normal traditional human life to virtually stick with ships on the seas, exposed to a lot of dangers. Seafarers deserve the respect of ship owners who employ their services. Employers need to dignify and accord them the respect they deserve. Governments of different countries must ensure the comfort seafarers deserve is given to them.
We have a lot of workers in different sectors in the world, but seafarers are probably special. It wasn’t for nothing that the theme for the 2020 edition of the day set aside by the International Maritime Organisation to honour seafarers was tagged “Seafarers are the Key Workers”. For me, personally, seafarers are heroes, because they sacrifice their comfort and well-being, sometimes their lives, for humanity.
In Nigeria today, seafarers do not get the best treatment from ship owners who discriminate against them on the basis of their nationality. This discrimination manifests in remuneration and opportunities for advancement. We at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) experience such discriminations too. We have situations where some ship owners discriminate against our certification. Notwithstanding, as a maritime administration, NIMASA is not folding its arms to allow for the situation to continue. We are already taking administrative measures to address this challenge through operational and labour directorates.
At NIMASA, we take the issues of equality, justice and fairness very seriously. When we employ, we ensure that people with the same qualification and experience are placed on the same level and receive the same salaries. There is nothing like discrimination. Seafarers do not deserve any form of discrimination, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. The welfare of seafarers is key to the operations in the maritime sector.
Nigeria was the first country in West Africa to issue a Marine Notice to announce that seafarers are essential workers who should be accorded the best treatment in terms of welfare. They should be able to live in good environments and enjoy the best that life can offer.
NIMASA is looking into the issue of certificate discrimination to ensure institutionalization of curriculum, so as to discourage application of curriculum that differs from country to country. Nigerian certifications will have the same curriculum with British certifications, to guard against any form of discrimination. We are signing a memorandum of understanding with many universities to bridge this gap. There are many Nigerians outside the shores of the country today who are not willing to come back because of the more attractive remuneration they are getting. Efforts should be directed at encouraging them to come back and contribute to building the nation, to ensure we produce qualified seafarers.
At the moment, we have two categories of certifications – limited and unlimited. Most of the certificates we are giving in Nigeria are limited, which means seafarers are limited to certain restricted areas where they can perform. Those with certificates that are unlimited can work anywhere in the world.
Under the National Seafarers Development Programme of NIMASA, over 3,000 Nigerians have been trained abroad. By the time we are through with the process of their CoC certifications and certification of their sea time programmes, they would be eligible to seek employment outside the country. At the end of the day, we would serve as a blueprint for exporting labour in terms of seafaring jobs. That would ultimately see an inflow of foreign exchange into the country.
Dr. Jamoh can be reached on Twitter: @JamohBashir. #Thevoiceofmaritime.