No doubt, the Nigerian seafarer has indeed seen better days. We recall the significant contributions of the first generation of seafarers notably marine engineers and master mariners. They were a respected member of the shipping community and also command respect and envy of the larger society. They were indeed the envy of their peers.
Sadly, the days when Nigerian seafarers were kings had all gone; in its place, Nigeria now has an army of half baked, unemployed seafarers who are turned out yearly by maritime training institutions. The system is also permeated by an array of mushroom training institutions. An idea of the glorious day of the seafarer could be gleaned from the comment of a former Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority, Engr Omar Suleiman who reminiscence that NPA once had an international maritime school and that by the late 1960s, “all harbor crafts including two coal carriers from Port Harcourt to Lagos “MV Tafawa Balewa” and “MV Enugu” were all fully manned by Nigerians. The buoy laying vessel “MV Bode Thomas”, the 50 tons capacity floating crane “The Wellington” tug etc were also manned by Nigerian seafarers”.
If Suleiman was not there in those glorious days, the chairman of the Nigerian Shipping Association, Mr. Val Usifo was part of those good old days. Here what he said, “I feel very sad because in my lifetime, I have seen seamen being celebrated in this country. There used to be over 4,000 seamen in this country, the seamen spent greater part of their lives on the waters. I feel very sad at the state of our seamen”.
The demise of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) and the consequent loss of opportunity for sea-time for budding seafarers and cadets as well as the failure of Maritime Academy of Nigeria to turn out world class and employable seafarers have been jointly blamed for the dwindled fortunes of seafarers in Nigeria.
According to a marine engineer, Mr. Josiah Wasa, “In 1959 when NNSL was formed, there was no ship, so seamen that were employed were trained at Palm Line, Elder Dempster etc. in 1960, two vessels; MV Nnamdi Azikwe and MV Abubakar were brought and crewed by Nigerians. 1,000 people were employed and another 1,000 people were employed on land for change over.
The twin factors of the death of NNSL and the failure of Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN, Oron) have jointly led to mass unemployment, prevalence of fake and ill-trained seafarers. Things have become so bad that Nigerian seafarers are not employed while the cadets have difficulties serving sea-time. And if they don’t have sea-time, they can’t get on board.
The dearth of qualified seafarers and the high rate of unemployment among those who are qualified are symptomatic of a dysfunctional maritime industry in Nigeria. Some have said that one of the essences of the Cabotage Act is to address the issues of unemployment and lack of sea-time for cadets.
Certainly, the statutory role of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in this cannot be over emphasized. Being the agency that is saddled with the responsibility of maritime labour, it has to do more than it is doing at the moment.
While we commend the National Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) which has seen many young Nigerians beginning a career in seafaring, we also take note of the recent comment of the Nigerian Association of Master Mariners that the programme has failed to meet the yearning of the maritime sector for qualified seafarers.
President of the association, Captain Olopoenia has knocked both the NSDP and its promoter, NIMASA and demanded a total re-appraisal of the scheme by the government as it has not yielded fruits. Olopeania had noted that the problem of the NSDP’s cadets is similar to that of their counterparts at the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron, which according to him had to do with lack of sea-time on board vessels.
“If you want to train seafarers from cadet to officer, it takes between four to five years, between that period, I don’t know how many of the cadets they trained have become officers now, if they have not become officers then there is a problem with the programme”.
As much as we want to agree with some suggestions that: “Nigerian seafarers should be integrated into the Cabotage trade by fiat, it is our candid opinion that adequate training comes before sea-time and subsequent employment. The first step to ensuring a more fulfilling career is to ensure that there are more maritime training opportunities for intending seafarers. To do this, Nigeria certainly needs more maritime schools but not in the manner they are at the moment. We also do not advocate that government should be the sole provider of maritime education.
While properly equipping and ensuring that the Oron, Akwa Ibom state academy is well staffed, with qualified personnel, government should expedite action on the proposal to establish three more academies in other parts of the country and also encourage the private sector to come into it. The present sets of privately owned institutions are to say the least, terribly below standard.
The future of Nigerian seafarers is the responsibility of NIMASA, to shy away from this fact is to admit failure. It is not enough to send cadets to foreign nautical institutions, concerted efforts must be made to ensure that they have sea-time after which they are assured of a future through employment. To ensure employment, may be NIMASA should do more about boosting the nation’s fleet, by ensuring a better life for indigenous shipowners.
NIMASA also cannot use the waiver clause in the Cabotage Act to secure placement on foreign vessels that are benefitting from the clause. We are worried as the master mariners because some people have said that we are the last set of mariners that Nigeria will produce, we don’t want it to be that way. While we don’t subscribe to the fear that after the generation of Captain Olopoenia there may be no seafarers again, we nevertheless are apprehensive of the quality of training and the experience of the budding sailors.
Source: Shipping Position