Koni Duniya is the President and Founder of Female Seafarers’ Association of Nigeria (FESAN). In this exclusive interview with TNMN, she speaks on a wide range of maritime sector issues. Enjoy it.
TNMN: What is FESAN?
The Female Seafarers’ Association of Nigeria (FESAN) fosters the existence of female seafarers in Nigeria and promotes an environment where female seafarers can thrive. In 2019, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) dedicated the Seafarer’s day and the World Maritime Day to women, both events were themed; “I Am on Board with Gender equality” and “Empowering Women in the Maritime Community”. So, we thought it wise to come together under one umbrella so that we can channel our efforts in one direction, seeking solutions to issues that concern female seafaring in Nigeria. The association started in November 2019.
TNMN: This year, the IMO announced May 18th as a day for annual celebration of Women in Maritime globally, how did FESAN mark the occasion?
We had a zoom session which was more of an interview-styled engagement with a HR Diversity and Inclusion Consultant who is based in the United Kingdom. Maritime is global and at FESAN, we understand this. So, we are seeking global opportunities and spreading our tentacles in the quest to proffer solutions to the issues that concern female seafarers. As an HR Consultant, what the host did was to invite participants from her network to attend the session which will in turn enable us have access to potential employers. We also had an opportunity to talk extensively about FESAN, the challenges and some of the approaches to alleviate these challenges. At the session, we also talked about my personal seafaring career.
TNMN: You have talked about blockchain technology and the enormous opportunities for Nigeria’s maritime sector. Can shed more light on this?
Blockchain is a really interesting concept and as the world keeps evolving and developing, Nigeria shouldn’t be left behind. Most of the challenges with seafaring in Nigeria is because for a long time not much was done to grow the industry. There has always been a lot of reliance on the government to grow the industry but the truth is that government can’t do it alone. Public-Private Partnership (PPP) is the way to go.
During my seafaring days, I had the privilege of travelling to several developed nations and at the developed ports we didn’t work with so many paper documents in those countries. The vessel will usually send port documents ahead of time and everything was done electronically. We didn’t have all government agencies coming onboard in developed countries. It was mostly Customs, some key agencies and the ship agents. Other nations have been practicing automation at ports and blockchain has taken this to a higher level. As we digitalize the port system, we are also preserving the environment, limiting the use of papers and saving trees there by reducing global warming. If that’s the only reason for automation, I think it’s worth it.
On the business side, blockchain rids the system of corruption because it is very difficult to commit fraud when everything is in a blockchain system. The challenge of ship financing is something that has led to considerations for cryptocurrency and crypto is built on blockchain technology. I’ve had the privilege of using blockchain technology for daily operations in shipping and I really appreciate it because everything is done at convenience with just the click of a button. Nigeria shouldn’t be left behind.
TNMN: While seafarers remain a major global asset, evolving technology and the emergence unmanned vessels has been identified as a threat to this profession. Do you subscribe to that school of thought?
I don’t think so because human beings made the machines. I don’t think it will limit the roles of seafarers onboard vessels. Seafaring is a peculiar profession that requires human interface. As much as we want to digitalize medicine, there is still a need for doctors who can touch and feel, because computers can’t do this likewise seafaring. Automated ship is a welcome development but I don’t see it replacing seafarers anytime soon. I know that there might be some jittery feelings but this innovation would only enhance the way seafarers work. We would still need people to take the data-feed to ensure that the automated process gets the desired results.
TNMN: Last year, a Swedish University conducted a research which revealed that over 50 percent of female seafarers globally have been subjected to one form of bullying or harassment at the workplace. What’s your take on this?
As a seafarer, I was at sea from 2005 to 2014 and I have observed that the statistics from 2005 till date haven’t changed significantly. The complaints are still there and if we do a poll today, we’d still have high numbers. However, to address this problem, we have to start looking at the shipping companies. The Personal Safety and Social Responsibility (PSSR) course forms part of the mandatory basic offshore safety training for all seafarers under International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for (STCW) convention. The essence of this course is to enable people know how to conduct themselves on ships which is a work environment.
There are also Human Element trainings for officers and the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC). So, in terms of regulations, the rules are there but these ills continue because the enforcement is weak. Shipping companies have to enforce these regulations because they are also risking their businesses by harbouring people who harass others. Imagine having an officer on the bridge in charge of a watch at midnight while everyone is sleeping and this officer is unable to concentrate on the watch because someone is harassing her, that lack of concentration endangers the lives of the persons onboard, the environment and the asset.The lives of everyone onboard and the ship could be lost because someone got away with bullying and harassment. The vessel owner could lose his asset by deciding to harbour one man that is indiscipline. At the end of the day, everyone can harass some other person but you can choose to discipline yourself not to do that. It’s also important to note that harassment goes both ways but it is more pronounced on women.
Some weeks ago, there was a trend on social media where people were identifying and calling out horrible bosses. I observed that some companies swung into action and suspended people fingered as horrible bosses. Some of the companies began to conduct investigations. This showed that such companies are serious and they wouldn’t let one man’s indiscipline ridicule their organizations. Why should we tolerate this in the maritime sector?
In ship financing, the financiers are presently looking beyond account keeping or financially viable businesses. They want to see how organisations treat the members of staff, corporate governance structure, among others, because they believe these things determine the sustainability of the organisation. No one is indispensable in any organsation because we have so many young and talented people looking out for opportunities. When companies realize this and punish people who are indiscipline, others would learn the lessons.
As females, we also try to encourage each other to speak out because nobody knows about these problems if the victims don’t speak out. While we encourage the companies to be stringent with this issue, we also encourage females to speak out. What happened in the past was that there was so much silence about this issue and people thrived on this silence. At FESAN, we believe that just talking about this issue publicly helps to remove the veils. Companies have to play their roles because no one will intentionally go to harass someone else at the expense of their jobs.
TNMN: Would you consider an all-female ship crew as a solution to gender harassment?
There is no guarantee that if we have all females onboard some wouldn’t bully others. Sexuality differs and harassment could still happen on a crew of all females. The fundamental thing is that if one knows that he or she will be punished for harassment and lose their job, such persons will be unwilling to do it.
Seafarers development isn’t unconnected to the availability of ships. The shipping environment in Nigeria is such that there are limited jobs for the few indigenous ship owners, hence, little or no opportunities for seafarers to get seatime and permanent employment opportunities. What’s your take on this?
Shipping is a derived demand. First, there must be cargoes that require to be shipped before we need the ships to move the cargoes. When we put the issue of ship owning on the front burner, we should consider how the nation’s economy is functioning. What is the nation producing for exports? What are the demands for shipping?
In the Oil and Gas sector, the awakening and realisation on the need to develop indigenous capacity is there and things are beginning to happen. Nevertheless, we need the industries to grow so that shipping also grows. We need farmers to constantly produce and export ship-loads of agro-produce.
Lately, Nigerian seafarers are looking for employment opportunities in other countries of the world because there are no jobs in-country.
Nigerian-trained seafarers are not being accepted onboard foreign vessels because the nation isn’t on the IMO White List. How much of a stigma is this and how could this be corrected?
Most of panel discussants here are UK trained and I schooled in the UK as well. However, with the benefit of hindsight, I can tell that there is little difference between the lecturers because Nigerians are great as well. So, it boils down to how much has been invested in seafarers training.
Nevertheless, things are changing in Nigeria for better. I went to Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN), Oron, last year and I was amazed at the high-level facilities especially the simulators. The Institution is advancing and we have a lot of young Nigerians with Class 1 unlimited Certificate of Competency (COC) in their early 30’s. The challenge is that a lot of those people are domiciled in the oil and gas sector. The Oil and Gas sector needs the waterfront to ship out its product, so they absorb the best seafarers and pay them well. As the rest of the shipping sector in the nation complain that there is shortage of qualified seafarers, the truth is that the oil and gas sector has absorbed the best.
To be able to arrange for the Class 1 exams, we need people that have the experience to develop the appropriate curriculum. Nigeria hasn’t coordinated itself enough to do that, so Class 1 looks like an enormous task. It’s a very simple thing to do but we haven’t put in the efforts to make it happen. One of my lecturers in the UK has started a Class 1 COC tutorial online via Zoom. Almost on a daily basis, people have been graduating after his programme online.