To create balance in manning operations in Nigeria while ensuring that the responsibilities of the shipowners as well as the crew on board vessels are carried out in a way that is void of abuse and neglect, the Chief Executive Officer of Ocean Deep Services Limited, Mrs. Rollens Macfoy has called on the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to restrict issuance of manning licences to manning agents.

Macfoy, who was speaking during an interview with Maritime TV at the weekend, expressed worry in the system operated by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) which allows shipowners obtain licenses as manning agents.

According to her, manning agents are the equilibrium between shipowners and seafarers, hence the crucial role of the agents could be eroded when ship owners also act as manning agents.

Her words: “I don’t think it is the fault of ship owners that they have a loophole to operate without engaging manning agents. NIMASA gives out licenses to manning agents. Should NIMASA also give out such licenses to shipowners? Some ship owners are manning agents. Who checkmates a shipowner who is also a manning agent? Nigeria has to be specific and address this anomaly.”

She stressed the need to correct the trend where NIMASA calls for tripartite meetings with ship owners and Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) but excludes manning agents.

“Most times, NIMASA calls for tripartite meetings and the attendees are MWUN, shipowners and NIMASA. Manning agents are usually not invited and when we are invited, we are just observers.  There is a need to correct this approach so that manning agents can make significant contributions as professionals and mediators between seafarers and ship owners,” she said.

Speaking on the challenge faced by manning agents during the COVID-19 lockdown, she noted that designated hospitals should have been provided for seafarers who that several seafarers were ill and were stranded during the lockdown.

Relaying an account of her company’s experience, she said: “We got into a situation where there was nobody to attend to the seafarers onboard the vessels. Some seafarers were sick and the hospitals refused to accept them, insisting that they should be taken to COVID-19 centres. We couldn’t even get doctors to go onboard the vessels because they were afraid to do so.

“We started doing self-medication and consulting the doctors on phone. We had to send our ground officers onboard to deliver the prescribed drugs by doctors and we placed these officers at risk by doing that.

“It got really bad and we had to get an ambulance to take some members of crew to hospitals. The hospitals wouldn’t accept them and we ended up taking two of our crew members to the COVID-19 centre at Yaba in Lagos.

“We wanted them to be tested of COVID-19 since the hospitals were refusing to attend to them. We had to be sure that they didn’t have the COVID-19 virus. The problem is that while we were rushing helter skelter, somebody could have died.

“A particular hospital should have been dedicated to seafarers because these are the people that sustain global economy. People call them Merchant Navy, but I call them the heartbeat of the nation and by extension the heartbeat of the world.”

Macfoy also sympathized with Nigerian seafarers who have suffered disparity in wages when compared to their foreign counterparts, expressing optimism that the current NIMASA leadership would address the problem.

She said a committee developed a report last year which recommended uniform wages for seafarers, adding that “We are excited that we have a professional who has gone through the ladder at NIMASA now at the helm as Director General of the agency. We are sure that these things would be put right under his administration.”

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