In this interview, Capt. Tayo  Sobajo,  a UK qualified Master Mariner  discusses the seafaring industry, pointing out a way forward.  He has been onboard various types of ships and enjoys training Deck Cadets.  He currently serves on the Board of Directors of AMANO Europe, and is one of the organisers of the DECK & ENGINEERS COC Preparatory Online Class (link https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZVzq2ncXOSlsM0FbCVLyRQ). 

TNMN: What is your assessment of the seafaring sub-sector of the maritime industry?

Capt Sobajo: Napoleon Hill said that Capital and Labour are essential to each other; Capital can do nothing without Labour.

We have more Nigerian Seafarers building competence and confidence, and there has always been collaboration amongst those that are self-sponsored.  For male experienced seafarers, the situation had generally improved even with market fluctuations until the COVID-19 pandemic. I do not think the same can be said for female seafarers in Nigeria as they faced more discrimination long before the pandemic

Training, certifications, and the -five year re-certifications are expensive especially for self-sponsored personnel requiring foreign unlimited licenses.

TNMN: In spite of the revenue earning and employment generating capacity of the sector, as seen in other climes, we seem to be struggling here, why is this so?

Capt Sobajo: The politics of employment in the sector is complex. We operate a Cabotage system yet offer exemptions to Cabotage for a fee.  Investors preference, local politics and the ‘Oga-at-the-top’ culture, knowledge and generational differences between the decision makers in the office and the seafarers onboard, budget cuts, etc, all lead to less training and lower net take-home for onboard seafarers.  This invariably leads to more experienced seafarers leaving the sector.

With the Pandemic and the restriction to travel, I joked that manning agencies and shipping companies are now looking to hire the Nigerian ‘Elon Musk’ (that they did not train) to occupy positions that are mostly and unnecessary filled by expats previously.

TNMN: What are the major challenges Nigerians encounter onboard vessels and how has NIMASA assisted in ensuring they are surmounted?

Capt Sobajo: The conditions are getting better, however not good enough. Due to the unnecessary limitations and politics around the issuance of the Certificate of Competency, some Nigerian Seafarers cannot work on some flag of vessels working on Nigerian waters and where they do, they are dropped before the vessel sails out of Nigeria. It again limits the opportunities for experience and exposure that could have been gained on international waters and foreign shores. I recall a couple of my team members that sailed across the Indian Ocean to an Asian country, their experiences and exposure to the Buoyage system was great compared to what see in our local waters. I must specially say kudos to the Cabotage Enforcement Team in NIMASA; they have done a good job that has led to the increase in the number if Nigerian seafarers onboard. Port State officials have also been of good service to the industry.

TNMN: The lack of vessels for the mandatory seatime for cadets and the limitations in the process(es) for the issuance of Certificate of Competence have been recurring areas of concerns in the industry, can you throw more light on the current state of things?

Capt Sobajo: The experienced seafarer available today will not be available forever. It is natural that some would move into shore jobs, become ship owners, or venture into other businesses. It is important and for the best interest of the sector to always encourage training of the next generation of seafarers to ensure there is adequate knowledge transfer from the experienced seafarers. Onboard training and experience for cadets and junior officers are important for the such knowledge transfer. 

The Nigerian seafaring sub-sector have always seen Cadetship training as an unnecessary expense while the Authority issuing the certificate of authority feels that are doing the candidates favours. I personally do not think 2-4 Cadets (mixed Deck, Engine, Electrical, Male, and Female) on every ship that has the capacity would sink the ship or make the company bankrupt.

TNMN: It is alarming to have learnt that you have identified about 32 unemployed female seafarers who were denied access to jobs they qualify for because of their gender! How is this so and how do you propose that this is resolved? Have NIMASA and the Honourable Minister been formerly petitioned?

Capt Sobajo: I have always known that it can be difficult to get placement, I spent one year doing all sorts of odd jobs from shoe making, selling recharge card on the streets of Port Harcourt before I got Cadetship placement and another six months after I got my licence before I got a job offer. I was shocked to realise recently that our qualified female seafarers have spent five years and above. They are turned down due to their gender by shipping companies that continue to advertise vacancies. NIMASA is aware as most of the affected female Seafarers continue to visit NIMASA for recommendations. I also understand that a Female Seafarer lobby group have petitioned the Honourable Minister on the issue.

TNMN: About two years ago, some shipowners said they could employ female seafarers because their ships were not originally designed to cater for them. In the light of the just celebrated International Women’s Day celebration, would a government policy on reconfiguration of vessels to accommodate women and/or on a minimum number of females required on board vessels trading in Nigeria/registered in Nigeria be a step in the right direction?

Capt Sobajo: Having served on Oil Tankers, Pipe Laying Barges, LNG vessels, and Offshore DP vessels, I do not agree that such vessels are not designed to cater for female seafarers. I have also served with two to five female seafarers on some trips. Most vessel (like the once I served on) all have en-suite cabins for single or double occupancy. NIMASA can enforce all vessels having a minimum of two female seafarers for all vessels operating within Nigerian waters. South Africa is a good example in terms of championing female seafarers on offshore vessels.

TNMN: Going forward, what areas should be adequately addressed to make the seafaring sector a viable one?

Capt Sobajo: It is to the best interest of Ship owners that Seafarers are trained and experienced to improve efficiency, professionalism, and reduce accidents.  The Sector requires continuous training to be GLOCAL (Global Standards + Locally relevant) , PUBLISHED syllabus, collaboration between Training Institutions and relevant stakeholders to ensure theory knowledge is backed up by practical experiences onboard.  Leaders in the field should champion inclusivity of female seafarer on our fleet. 

It is a matter of priority for NIMASA to issue Unlimited licenses (amongst other task that they are required to do by LAW) so that self-sponsored Nigerian seafarers do not need to keep buying foreign currencies in order to study aboard. Most of the bosses in NIMASA have and know the benefits of their unlimited licences.

NIMASA should also publish all declassified accident and Incident reports to enable relevant stakeholder to learn from such experience.  These things are not rocket science really.

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