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Stakeholders bemoan criminalisation of seafarers

Stakeholders in the shipping sector have decried the criminalisation of seafarers whenever issues in a vessel arise, noting that such acts have psychological implications on the essential workers.

They spoke at a Seafarers Global Conference Webinar, themed: “Seafarers Welfare:Are we Missing the Boat?”, organised by the Mission to Seafarers Lagos (MTSL).
Speaking, the Director, Maritime Services, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Ibrahim Jibril, noted that the activities of pirates have greatly affected seafarers, as some were accused of working with the pirates. He said seafarers are usually arrested along with the pirates without charging them to court, which is not good for their mental health due to the nature of their job.

He added that to restore their confidence, the new Anti-Piracy Law would bring succour to seafaring and seafarers in Nigeria. President, Nigerian Maritime Law Association (NMLA), Chidi Ilogu, among other speakers, noted that such a situation, which is part of the challenges faced by seafarers, arose whenever a maritime dispute or robbery took place, leading to a vessel being arrested.

According to him, this exposes seafarers to a long stay in the port, and considering the hazardous nature of their jobs, they cannot travel home, and this affects them psychologically. He said: “A vessel can also be arrested and detained by the Navy when it is carrying crude oil without authorisation and this can take up to six to nine months before it is resolved and seafarers at times charged for it.

“Collective arrest is done by a security official even when there is a piracy attack and this exposes the seafarer to many hazards.” Commenting on issues faced by seafarers on the international scene, Director of Advocacy International Centre, MTS London, Ben Bailey, identified lack of communication as the biggest challenge facing the seafarers.He noted that restriction during the COVID-19 had a drastic impact on their mental health, urging that repatriation should be approached with much sensitivity.

Clinical Psychologist, Lagos State University College of Medicine, Prof. Ayodele Coker, noted that the welfare of a seafarer was in tandem with mental health.

According to him, seafarers are faced with depression, loneliness, abandonment, suicide and others, and these affect their mental health and leads to disorder.
President Shipowners Forum, Mrs Margret Orakwusi, said the lack of safety of seafarers on the waterways was what bothered them, urging the government to look into the search and rescue missions.

Also, Managing Director, Sea Transport Group, Aminu Umar, noted that during the COVID-19 lockdown, there were issues with changing crew due to the difficulties experienced in testing the crew to ensure they had no virus before boarding or disembarking the vessel.

The Chairman, MTSL, Chief Adebayo Sarumi, called for support not only from regulatory organisations but also from private organisations to ensure that seafarers were given the needed support.

The group had during a press briefing to celebrate the Seafarers’ Week, in Lagos, pledged to work towards improving seafarers welfare institutions in Nigeria, in line with international best practices.

Sarumi said the Mission was one of over 260 Mission to Seafarers (MTS) stations operational across the globe, with its global mantra of “caring for Seafarers around the world.

Earlier, the Women International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA) Nigeria, had celebrated the seafarers, describing them as “unsung heroes”. President, WISTA Nigeria, Mrs Eunice Ezeoke, said paying more attention to those who work on board the vessels is a key success factor to the global shipping industry.

She noted that the sea is not as friendly as it seems when seen from the shore, and despite technological advancement and innovations in ships, seafarers at sea are at the mercy of nature and shipping policies.

“Being at the frontline in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, they play an essential role in maintaining the global flow of vital goods, such as food, medicines and medical supplies,” she said.

Ezeoke added: “Today, over 90 per cent of global trade is done by sea, since it is still the most cost-effective way to transport goods. Globally, there are over 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally and the total cargo capacity of the world merchant shipping fleet is 1.75 billion deadweight tonnes (DWT).
The people responsible for maintaining, running and operating the fleet are seafarers. There are over 1.6 million seafarers worldwide. How do we attract millennials to take up the profession, if not through greater support and improved welfare for seafarers?
Source: The Guardian

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