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Fair future for seafarers

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Bashir Jamoh

The title of this piece is the theme the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) chose for the celebration of the 2021 edition of the annual Day of Seafarers, which was held on Friday, June 25. The theme was chosen to increase the visibility of seafarers and draw global attention to the invaluable contributions they make to world trade. It was meant to underscore the need for them to have a fair future.

Seafarers play a pivotal role in moving goods and merchandise across different destinations. To be sure, this is an important factor that drives world trade and impacts greatly on the world economy, with implications for the welfare of the entire humanity.

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Seafarers are unarguably the strongest link in the maritime value chain, in an industry that accounts for over 65 per cent of world trade. But quite regrettably, they don’t get the recognition they deserve in terms of welfare that guarantees a better future for them and their families – the families they leave behind sometimes for weeks and months crisscrossing the globe to ensure goods get to their destinations safely and at a much cheaper price.

It is worth recalling that in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic that literally brought the world on its knees in 2020, seafarers found themselves at the forefront of the various response strategies that were adopted by the international community to confront the global enemy. They were subjected to very strict protocols that became necessary because of the uncertainties that surrounded compliance with guidelines with regards to port access, re-supply, crew changes, repatriation, etc.

In order to help in easing travel restrictions by governments and authorities for seafarers in the areas of embarkation, disembarkation and crew change in the midst of the pandemic, IMO adopted the theme, “Key and Essential Workers”, for the 2020 edition of the Day of Seafarers. The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) responded to the theme by designating seafarers as key workers in a bid to ensure a seamless process of crew change, a step that was applauded by both IMO and International Labour Organization (ILO).

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For this year’s edition of the campaign, NIMASA will continue to urge the support of all stakeholders for seafarers as the Covid-19 pandemic shows no sign of abating, especially with the seemingly continuous emergence of new variants that task health authorities around the world. This is to ensure a fair future for, and the wellbeing of, seafarers, in line with ILO’s Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), 2006, as amended. The agency is aware of the numerous challenges faced by our seafarers, which include poor working and living conditions, as well as the mental and physical stress of navigating across different seas around the world, sometimes in unconducive environments. There is also the issue of discrimination on the basis of nationality and country of certification in terms of employment opportunities. This also manifests in discriminatory salary structures and opportunities for advancement.

The welfare of seafarers is of utmost importance to NIMASA because their commitment to performing the yeoman’s job expected of them cannot be divorced from the welfare available to them. This is part of the total package the agency is putting in place to guarantee safety and security in our waterways, with the Deep Blue Project inaugurated recently by President Muhammadu Buhari as the flagship.

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It is a top priority for NIMASA to ensure seafarers are treated fairly by ship-owners and employers through the implementation of approved Conditions of Service and Collective Bargaining Agreements on Minimum Standards. The agency will continue to work to ensure that the welfare of the crew is given the priority attention it deserves. It will do everything to prevent their ill-treatment, including being made to work under poor working and living conditions, which is a violation of the NIMASA Act of 2007 and MLC 2006, as amended. The welfare, development and fair employment of seafarers will continue to receive priority attention from the agency.

The overall objective of NIMASA is to ensure that Nigerian seafarers acquire the necessary knowledge, skill and competence to compete globally. It is heartwarming to mention that the agency’s capacity development strategy through the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) has begun to yield positive results. An example is a fact that the programme has produced the first female captain and pilot in West Africa, Ms. Canus Ebinipre Robinson, who is currently a pilot with LTT Coastal and Marine Services Limited, one of the channel management contractors of the Nigerian Ports Authority. The agency’s congratulations go to Ms. Robinson and all the seafarers for their immense contributions to the maritime sector in particular and the world economy in general.

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The harmonious working relationship that exists between NIMASA on one hand and the Ship Owners Association, Nigerian Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Senior Staff Association, as well as the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, among others, is worthy of commendation. This relationship has engendered a peaceful and crisis-free atmosphere for the Nigerian maritime sector. It is a relationship that will continue to wax strong as we increase our capacity to ensure a safe and secure maritime environment within Nigeria’s territorial waters up to the Gulf of Guinea where it accounts for more than 70 per cent of seaborne trade. This will be done with full recognition, appreciation and treatment of seafarers as key to the realization of this objective.

Dr. Jamoh is the Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency.

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