By DAPO OLAWUNI
Nigerian shipowners have said that they were finding it difficult to repartriate seafarers under the COVID19 Pandemic, even as some of them, especially the fishing vessels, called for improved search and rescue operations by Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) for seafarers stuck onbaord at sea.
Speaking at a Webinar organised by the Mission to Seafarers Lagos last week, former President of Nigerian Trawler Owners Association and Chairman of Shipowners Forum, Mrs Margaret Orakwusi called for improved search and rescue on Nigerian territorial waters.
She lamented that during the COVID-19, some seafarers have been out there at sea, beyond their usual time, and that this has had psychological effect on them, coupled with activities of sea pirates and hostile communities.
“We have lost a seafarers out there due to sea pirates, and automatically you have inherited their wives and children, we are most concerned about seafarers safety on the waters, if anything happens to them, who goes out to rescue them in terms of search and rescue, this is why we are calling on the regulators whose function it is to maintain safety on our waters to remove the wrecks that cause accidents”
“In terms of safety and security, it is out of our hands as shipowners but they affect our sea men, government needs to safeguard the environment”
A shipowner and Director, Maritime Consultancy Transbasin Group, Mrs Karen Ogidigben said shipowners are now taking on additional costs of chattering flights in order to ensure seafarers are repartriated.
From global perspective, she lamented that government authorities have not really been corporative as they should in ensuring that seafarers move freely to ensure crew change takes place.
“From global perspective and haven worked for a global company where you have ships calling the world, most of the issues is not necessarily that shipowners do not want the seafarers go home, in fact, the biggest problem has been the lockdown from these countries, its been a little bit tricky, and shipowners have had to speak with associations where they have to keep talking to government to open up the borders to allow seafarers go in and out so that crew changes can happen”
“A lot of shipowners have gone to the point of using charter flights, collaborating together to have chatter flights all over the world, there has been some advantage to this, we have seen crew changes happen between April and today, the numbers are increasing”
“Shipowners are actually taking the initiative and the additional cost to ensure that seafarers go home, but it has not been easy for anybody”
“We commiserate with the seafarers because they are stuck onboard, we also understand the issues of them getting home, but also understand the issue if them constantly pressuring us to come back to sea because they are running out of cash” she said
Also speaking, a shipowner, Mr Aminu Umar, said many shipowners are finding it difficult to repatriate seafarers.
He said “Remember that as a shipowner, we also have the responsibility to ship the seafarers onbaord safe, we want to also ensure that those we are signing onboard are safe and COVID-19 free before we allow them join the seafarers onboard”
“One of the things that took time for government to make available in this pandemic is the ability to be able to test anybody that is signing onboard, one of our cardinal responsibility is to make sure that everyone onboard is safe from COVID-19”
“What we have done is to reduce the number of people going onbaord, not only on who we sign on, but also in the area of government agencies that usually come onboard whenever a ship berths”
However, the Director, Maritime Labour Services st NIMASA, Ibrahim Jubril said that NIMASA has been proactive from the onset of the COVID-19
According to him, when shipowners were able to chatter flights, NIMASA facilitates, using the embassies of some of these foreign nationals to facilitate their boarding the chattered flights, and eventually they get repartriated.
“The responsibility for repatriating the crew lies on the shipowner, what we advise is for the shipowner to prevent himself to us so that we can guide, we have guided a number of them to be able to repartriate the seafarers, we have contacted the Presidential Task Force, and that was how we were able to get the status of easential workers for the seafarers”
“From the onset, NIMASA as a regulator has been very proactive, what we did was to contact IMO and ILO, came up with a marine notice with a step by step basis of how shipowners and seafarers can conduct themselves in the lockdown”
“In our own effort, we were able to get the Federal Government to designate seafarers as essential workers, and they were given free pass to move everywhere apart from crossing the borders” he said