Life at Sea: A captain’s note to young seafarers

...Observing rest hours very important-Capt Ogunseyin

Captain Femi Ogunseyin was on board a ship (Matrix S. ILU) for five months -all through the lockdown period caused by Covid-19. And the toughest feeling he had to deal with like every other seafarer, was missing the warmth and love of family. For an experience as that, Ogunseyin shares some  insights and thoughts on ‘Life at Sea’ he believes would be beneficial to younger seafarers.

A note for young seafarers

If you are in a place and you have not seen your family for long, you become sick. So, when you work at sea, you need to be able to work well under pressure and also by uneven schedules. And sometimes, lack of sleep entirely. A seafarer can work 24 hours of the day, especially when you are on board the ship and you are encountering very rough weather. Imagine a Captain would not want to abandon the ship to the officers only. So, his presence means a lot to the other officers. Simply put, there is stress everywhere in the sea, due to overworking. But, it is good now that the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is making steps to ensure that the seafarers are relieved of stress and even overwork. There is what we call “work and rest” period now. In the ‘work and rest’ period, the seafarer would have a maximum of 10 hours rest.  So, if he works for 14 hours, he should be able to rest for uninterrupted 10 hours. I think that is making it better for seamen.

Seafarer training and responsibility on board a ship  

The officers are engine room officers and deck officers, and the ratings who are in support level come from the engine room and the deck. The deck in the part of the ship that the people must go for the general administration of the ship. For example, the cadets come from the deck department, also the chief officer, the second officer, the third officer, the fourth officer sometimes, and also, the tech cadets. In the engine room department, we have the head as chief engineer, then the second engineer, third engineer, fourth engineer, and also engine room cadets. But everybody comes under the authority of the captain.

As a young officer, before you come to sea, it is expected that you would have passed through some training in a recognised nautical or maritime institution. In Nigeria, we have the Maritime Academy of Nigeria. We also have the College of Fisheries and Oceanography in Lagos, to acquire a diploma or a degree in marine engineering or nautical science. So, when they come on board, they are taken as cadets– that is, officers in training. They would work on board assisting the officers and the officers in turn train them. They continue working until when they have capacity to go for their exams.  Until a specified period of training like up to 12 months, they go and write the competency exam as an engineer or deck officer. Generally, before anybody can join the ship, he/she goes round the ship and be familiar with the arrangement on the ship. We conduct drills and what we teach the crew is what to do during emergency. For example, if the ship is sinking or there is fire outbreak, they would know what to do before abandoning a ship. In the drills, we allot duties/responsibilities to everybody, and they would now know what boat to go should there be an emergency. There are people who are supposed to carry the VHF radio, those who should carry the blankets, and others who should man the boat engines. We do all those during the drills every two weeks on board the ship.

Experience of being on board a ship throughout the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic

I was on board five months during the Covid-19. Fortunately, it was not about our country alone. It was global. We were so trapped since the end of March. Nothing was lost actually, just that we could not leave the ship. Travelling was actually impossible too. But work had to continue because, nothing would work if the seamen don’t work. You have to burn fuel to run your generator, so what would happen if there was no fuel? Understanding the importance of taking essential supplies across the world, we got encouraged to continue working, so people could get food and medical needs.

We were plying Lagos to Lome, to Warri, to Port Harcourt. We also learned how to stay save. The company did well to give us safety kits and other needful materials. But the experience was not friendly at all. When we arrive the port, nobody could go ashore. It got really difficult. In my ship, officers had been due to leave for the past two months and they got really bored when they could not. The only encouragement was that there was no way to even go home even if they could leave the ship. I could not go home even when the ship came to Lagos, because there were no vehicles to take anybody anywhere.  I kept trying to disembark for three weeks running because of the travel restrictions. The other captain could not come to replace me, and I could not abandon my ship as the captain.

Campaigns around the world

My case was simply because I am a Nigerian and my ship’s headquarters office is in Lagos. But, it is actually bad for foreigners, who even if they disembarked from the ship, cannot get flights back to their countries. If I was even living outside Lagos, it would have been difficult. That is why the IMO made efforts to ensure crew change issue got governments’ attention. The campaign should continue because, it is not easy for seamen at all.

A choice between onshore and sea work after this Covid-19 challenge

I can work anywhere. But by my training, my preference would be to work at sea. But, if I am left with the option of working onshore, I will do, as a superintendent.



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