Nigeria at present has a shortfall of 9,000 seafarers, and experts are worried that if the manpower needs are not urgently addressed, it may affect the maritime sector.
Mr Chief Kunle Folarin, the Chairman, National Seafarers Welfare Board, says the manpower shortage should be given adequate attention. According to Folarin, the total demand for all categories of seafarers is more than 12,000, while the personnel available is 3,000.
He says that the situation may worsen unless the maritime industry is accorded the same priority like the oil and gas sector in terms of capacity-building. "Today, the Nigerian seafarers may not be earning like their counterparts in other parts of the world.
"What we are doing in the last three or four years is to revive the interest of Nigerians in seafaring. Indeed, Nigeria has the potential to become a world power in the league of maritime nations if we harness all the opportunities in the sector. "
Master mariners are also worried that Nigerians who studied nautical sciences and other related courses are unable to have sea-time exposure due to lack of training vessels. To fulfill the practical aspects of their training, they are to be attached to a ship for at least 18 months.
Mr Emmanuel Omotayo, Vice-President of Nigerian Association of Master Mariners (NAMM), blames the scarcity of manpower in the shipping sector to low participation of vessels owned by Nigerians in the shipping business.
Omotayo advises the government to give attention to the development of the manpower needs of the maritime industry. "The federal government needs to do something in the right direction to ensure that the cadets from maritime institutions, like the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN), are fully engaged. "Sending people to school is not enough; we need ships for practical training of cadets. "That is why we have a maritime academy that is over 30 years old, yet it is incapable of turning out professional mariners to work on ocean-going vessels," Omotayo remarks.
Capt. Adewale Ishola, former President of NAMM, notes that the collapse of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL), affected training in Nigerian maritime institutions.
"Our maritime institution is only churning out half-trained seafarers who need to do their sea-time in order to become qualified for international recognition. "We do not have ships for the cadets to go for sea-time experience and this shortage of ships is affecting the quality of seafarers that we produce" Ishola says.
Several efforts have been made by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to train seafarers. Mr Patrick Akpobolokemi, the Director-General of NIMASA, says that the National Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) project was conceived and designed as a short-term intervention to produce the needed manpower in the maritime industry.
Recently, NIMASA with the support of the federal government, sponsored 525 youths to undergo a four-year seafarers training outside the country. To also get indigenous seafarers employed, NIMASA plans to acquire an electronic pooling system with a view to getting Nigerian seafarers registered, verified and placed on board vessels anywhere in the world. Chief Isaac Jolapamo, Chairman, Indigenous Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (ISAN) also says that the Nigerian maritime industry has witnessed a dramatic decline of competent Nigerian seafarers.
The expected technical know-how by seafarers for safe and smooth running of ships both on deck and engine room has also declined, he notes. "Shipping is an international trade whose rules of safety of vessels used for trading is governed by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) convention. Safety of ships largely depends on competence of the crew manning them. "Now we have a ray of hope in maritime training by Yaba College of Technology, based on the principle of private sector-driven initiative," the ISAN boss says.
The U.S. Consulate-General, Ms. Donna Blair, who spoke at the signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) brokered by ISAN, said the maritime department at Yaba College of Technology would boost manpower development of the maritime sector.
Blair said that the MoU would also help to reduce youth unemployment, youth restlessness and crime.
According to Capt. Niyi Labinjo, General Secretary of ISAN, the invasion of cabotage trade by foreign ship owners has cost huge losses, including unemployment of many Nigerian seafarers. "By also not engaging Nigerians in transportation of refined petroleum products, the nation is losing severally. If the indigenous ship owners are allowed to participate effectively in the coastal trade, the country can have about five million Nigerians employed as seafarers," he says.
Labinjo also observes the non-enforcement of cabotage laws, saying that many vessels that could not work in Europe and Asia as a result of stiff enforcement of regulations, are now found in Nigeria.
In acknowledging the manpower shortage in the maritime sector, they call on government to give priority attention to manpower development of the sector, so that Nigerian seafarers will meet international standards.