Seafarer Welfare: Shipowner tasks authorities on wreck removal, effective search and rescue operations

Chairperson of the Shipowners Forum, Mrs Margaret Orakwusi, on Thursday called on maritime regulatory agencies concerned to ensure removal of wrecks in the waterways as well as provision of fast moving crafts, ambulances for effective search and rescue operations when the need arises.

Orakwusi, also a former president of the fishing trawler owners association in Nigeria, made the call while speaking on the topic “Unsung Heroes of the Ocean Fishing, Safety and Operational Challenges,” at a Webinar organised by the Mission to Seafarers Lagos.

The Webinar themed “Seafarers Welfare: Are We Missing The Boat?” was moderated by Chief Adebayo Sarumi, the Chairman of the Mission in Lagos.

Orakwusi bemoaned the fact that seafarers were staking their lives at sea even during a pandemic , to ensure global trade is kept running, yet are faced with the challenges of safety and security issues.

“If anything is happening now, who goes to search and rescue? That is why we are calling upon the regulators, whose function it is to maintain safety on our waters, to remove the wrecks that cause accidents, to provide ambulances, very fast crafts that can go and do that,” she said.

She urged the authorities concerned to take security of the waters to heart as the shipowners continue to do that within their own capacity.

She said: “We all know that a lot of trading activities are made possible by their contributions through exports and imports. But, it is government’s responsibility to provide safe environment for business to strive in terms of security and safety.

“When Pirates attack vessels and at times leave casualties, when the vessel come to base, we have to make reports, and how the authorities do the investigations is out of your hands. Therefore, the authorities should ensure security is provided on our waters.”

Speaking on the activities of trawlers, she said trawlers don’t just trawl in Nigeria alone and that their activities throughout this Covid-19 had maintained a steady flow of supply of sea food and a channel for export.

In keeping the operations running, Orakwusi said the owners ensured they did as much as they could in terms of the seafarers’ welfare because, sincerely “It is a give and take situation. What you give, is what you reap in return.”

She remarked that every trawler owner who has spent so much buying a trawler would ensure they got the best hands to man the trawlers, and that while the seafarers be at sea, their problems are transferred to the vessel owners.

“We take care of their welfare. But, we have lost a lot of seamen due to pirate attacks. And when it happens, you inherit their problems. What really bother us is the lack of safety on our waters.

“During this Covid-19, some people have been out there in the sea beyond the usual time and they are there between 45-50 days and staying beyond the period. The fear of sea piracy, sea robberies, hostile communities all on them,” she added.

She said that as shipowners would continue to make available supplies for the seafarers as they work, they would continue to appreciate them for their courage and commitment as well.

In his contribution, Chief Executive Officer of Sea Transport Group, Aminu Umar,  said shipowners were finding it difficult to repatriate seafarers because, they want to maintain the responsibility of ensuring they were protected.

He referred that the initial challenge was one with inability to get anybody tested due to the requirement by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control that give immediate attention only to people who expressed symptoms of Covid-19.

“But remember, as shipowners, we also have a responsibility to check the safety of seafarers on board first.

“We also have to be sure that those we want to sign on should be Covid-19 free, before we are able to bring them onboard to join those who are already there.

“We found that it was really difficult to get Covid-19 test done on seafarers you want to bring onboard, because testing required expression of symptoms. So, we have to ensure anyone coming was free of the virus. We also wanted to reduce the number of people going onboard the ship.

On competence assurance through certificate evidence, Umar said “we verify certificates before admitting any seafarer on board.”

Other stakeholders also spoke on efforts being done to ensure welfare of seafarers, particularly during this pandemic.

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