Experts say that seafarers are the `engine room’ of the maritime industry. They work 24 hours daily, 365 days of the year, moving cargo from one end of the world to the other on board ships of all types and sizes.
Ironically, there are just about 1.5 million seafarers globally, keeping the world economy moving through the carriage of cargo on board ships.
To underscore the importance of seafarers, the International Maritime Organisation, IMO, in 2011 set aside June 25 of every year as Day of Seafarers.
This year’s Seafarers Day across the globe, including Nigeria was set aside to sensitise youths on the need to take up career in seafaring.
The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, in a message to the celebration held in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, said seafarers were grossly inadequate especially at the officers’ cadre level.
Mr. Calistus Obi, NIMASA’s Director, Maritime Labour and Cabotage Services, who represented the director-general, attributed the deficit to huge sum required to train a competent seafarer.
He explained that the agency’s policy of capacity building through the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme, NSDP, was in line with the theme of this year’s campaign.
According to him, as at today, NIMASA is fully sponsoring over 2,500 young Nigerians in various reputable maritime universities in the United Kingdom, Egypt, Romania, India and Philippines.
“There is therefore, more than ever before, the need for continuous training and retraining of Nigerian seafarers with a view to upgrading their skills and competencies.
“This no doubt will afford our nation adequate and skilled seafarers to drive the Cabotage regime and put Nigeria in good stead to achieve her goal of being the maritime hub in Africa and indeed the world.”
Obi, in a keynote address, urged all maritime stakeholders to take up the challenge of encouraging young Nigerians to pursue a career in the maritime sector as seafarers.
Capt. Sunday Umoren, Head of Cabotage Services of NIMASA who stood in for Obi, said the encouragement could be in form of sponsorship and improvement in working and living conditions of seafarers.
“The various training programmes embarked upon by the agency are aimed at addressing the challenge of low level human capacity development of seafarers,” Obi said.
He said the agency was mindful of the poor welfare condition of seafarers at the local and global levels.
The director also noted the strenuous journey the seafarers embarked upon; the life of isolation they have to bear; and the associated boredom, which they must withstand.
Obi, however, said he was proud to note that in spite of all these, the seafarers had remained undeterred toward the improvement of the nation’s economic prosperity.
Chief Kunle Folarin, the Chairman, National Seafarers Welfare Board, said seafarers should be commended for handling more than 85 per cent of goods coming into Nigerian ports.
Folarin said the celebration of the Seafarers Day provided opportunity for awareness of the roles of seafarers, adding that seafarers were major contributors to national economy.
“In 2014, a total of 5,400 vessels called at Nigerian ports, moved by foreign crew but now we want a change, that at least 10 per cent must be manned by Nigerians.
“Philippines’ seafarers remit about eight million dollars to their government.
“In few months, Nigerian seafarers will do the same when they are fully employed after going through the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme, NSDP training by NIMASA.
“The Maritime Labour Convention, MLC of 2006 was ratified by the Federal Government. We want the National Assembly to domesticate it so that people will enjoy the benefits,” Folarin said.
He urged NIMASA not to relent in training the seafarers as well as policing the nation’s territorial waters.
Dr Joshua Okpo, Rector, Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron, said, “Seafaring is rewarding and exciting.”
According to him, the remuneration is mouth-watering but Nigeria and Nigerians are yet to tap into this maritime potential.
Okpo said , “there are currently in excess of 50,000 merchant ships trading across the world and with the amount of international trade continuing to expand, the shipping industry must continue to expand to meet the ever-increasing demand.
“The ever increasing demand in ships necessitates the demand for well-trained and qualified seafarers to man these ships.
“The contributions of seafarers to the development of shipping and world economy cannot be over-emphasised.
“Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron, was established to meet these challenges,” the rector said.
Okpo mentioned careers like: deck officer, engineering officer, marine cook, marine electrician, marine stewards and Navy.
He also mentioned shipbuilding and hip repairs; divers; oil and rigs; towage and salvage; marine surveyors; offshore oil and gas and teaching.
Mrs Juliana Gunwa, Director, Maritime Labour Services in NIMASA said governments, seafarers’ employers, manning agents, private organisations could encourage young people to take up career in shipping by carrying out a campaign.
Gunwa who was represented by Ms Ego Nwokocha, Deputy Director Maritime Labour Service of NIMASA, said the benefits, which could accrue to the individual, the organisation and the government, could be highlighted.
“Seafaring could be a major foreign exchange earner of the country if all states of the federation and other maritime stakeholders key into the NSDP programme of NIMASA by investing in our seafarers now and reaping the benefits in the near future,” she said.
Gunwa advised that seafarers must shun acts, which might bring shame to their families and the country, like certificate forgery, pilfering, stealing, alcoholism, drug abuse and armed banditry.
Stakeholders want Nigerian youths to pursue a career ` at sea’ in order to earn ‘mouth-watering’ foreign exchange.
They say that a country like Philippines is known to be earning huge foreign exchange by exporting seafarers to other countries.
Nigeria, they say, could do so if the youths are encouraged to pursue a career in seafaring.

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