By DAPO OLAWUNI
Even as the Coronavirus pandemic bites harder globally, Nigerian seafarers are currently waiting on President Muhammadu Buhari to classify them as essential duty workers so as to ensure their free movement and change of crew onboard vessels.
Nigerian seafarers had recently lamented that they are stuck onboard ships because of the COVID-19 lockdown instituted in some states, this has led to lack of crew change onboard ships.
Apart from these, International Labour Organisation (ILO) International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the International Transport Federation (ITF) have all urged countries to classify seafarers as essential service providers and must be allowed free movement.
The prolonged stay of the seafarers onboard has led to fatigue, increased frustration, as well as cases of reported violent behaviours.
Speaking with DAILY TREND NEWS, a frontline seafarer and President of Seafarers Branch of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, Comrade Francis Bunu said the union has sent an appeal to the federal government to classify seafarers as essential duty workers, and that ILO, IMO have equally sent circulars.
He assured that any moment from now, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) would release a Marine Notice to address the challenge.
“The union has written letters to the presidency, NIMASA and other parastals on effecting crew change for seafarers and to classify them as essential service providers”
“NIMASA said they are waiting for the President to give the approval, he is the one to give the approval and not one particular State Government”
“Companies have also started to quarantine seafarers at various hotels for crew Change, what we are waiting for now is the approval from the President to make seafarers essential services, so that they can be allowed to travel interstate”
Comrade Bunu urged all seafarers onboard to remain calm, saying that they are even safer onboard than some of the crew already ashore.
“If a seafarer is signing off in Lagos today and he is going to Warri, how would he get there? There is no way because the roads are blocked, they are even more safer onboard than you and I that are ashore”
Meanwhile, seafarers have been urged not to accept employment or contracts without involvement of union.
Bunu warned that the seafarers outside the union and those who are going behind to take employment from private companies would always get low pay.
“They would pay you whatever they like, and sack you whenever they like.
These companies who are with the union, their seafarers are doing very well, the worst union is better than being without a union”
“Some companies do not allow their seafarers to belong to the union because they know that the rights and privileges of the seafarers would be made known to them, this is the battle we are fighting daily” he said