PIRACY: Mission to Seafarers Move To End Criminalisation of Seafarers in Nigeria

By DAPO OLAWUNI

The Mission to Seafarers Lagos (MTSL) has said that it is engaging the Nigerian Maritime Law Association in order to ensure that seafarers that were wrongfully arrested for various offenses onbaord vessels are released.

DAILY TREND NEWS gathered that no fewer than 300 Nigerian seafarers are languishing in various prisons across Nigeria for offences allegedly committed by their employers and ship charterers.

Speaking at the Seafarers Global Conference, a Webinar organised by the Mission to Seafarers in Lagos yesterday tagged “Seafarers Welfare: Are we Missing the Boat?, Chairman of the MTSL, Chief Adebayo Sarumi said that the seafarers have to be gotten off the hook because they are too low on the hierarchy of command onboard the ship.

He noted that sympathy is not enough, even as he said that the Anti piracy law by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) should go a long way in releasing seafarers that were wrongfully arrested and criminalised

Sarumi said “Sympathy is not enough, the seafarers has to be gotten off the hook because they are too low on the hierarchy of control onboard the ship to ever think that they might be part of piracy criminal act”

“We are going to engage the Nigerian Maritime Law Association on this matter” he said

Also speaking, Barrister Chidi Ilogu, President of the Nigerian Maritime Law Association said that Nigerian seafarers are often exposed to various maritime disputes, prolonged stay at the port due to port state issues and arrest by the Nigerian Navy.

According to him, the criminalization of seafarers is unfortunate because many of them, more often than not, do not know anything about the act.

Barr Ilogu said the NIMASA Anti Piracy is still new, and nothing much has been done to implement it.

“But what I understand is that when a vessel takes product onboard, for instance AGO or crude oil without proper authority, the vessel is usually detained, more often by the Navy.
In the process of the detention, the investigation could take forever, there are instances where issues with vessels were dragged for nine months before they went to court”

“In enforcing the law, there has to be a guideline, a vessel is under the control of the master, the seafarers have no control over the vessel
There needs to be a distinction between who should be the authority and who should be held responsible” he said

On his part, the Director of Maritime Labour Services of NIMASA, Mr Ibrahim Abubakar Jubril assured that the NIMASA Anti piracy law would also be a succour for the seafaring industry in Nigeria because, the criminal activities that are happening in the waters would be addressed in a proper court of law.

“We would continue to look at issues of seafarers welfare such that we mediate between employers and employee, even those that were being criminalised, we have succeeded in exonerated them by bringing the parties together, we would continue to do this until such a time that these kind of cases go beyond arbitration and we go to competent court of jurisdiction so that they can handle them”

“At times, seafarers are mistakenly arrested as criminals, there are instances where seafarers were arrested and detained without them being charged to court, they are detained for a long period”

“There are times that the seafarer could be involved, there are times that they are just caught in between the web and there are times that they are just victims of piracy”

“Some of the military officials, when they come to make arrests, they arrest even the seafarers that are innocent” Jibril said

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