Criminalisation of seafarers when a vessel is involved in a maritime dispute or robbery has psychological implications on them; they stay long in the port and cannot travel homes. All these affect their wellbeing considering the hazardous nature of the port and their jobs.
President, Nigerian Maritime Lawyers Association (NMLA), Mr Chidi Ilogu, made the assertion at a Seafarers Global Conference Webinar with the theme: “Seafarers Welfare: Are we Missing the Boat?” organised by the Mission to Seafarers Lagos (MTSL), yesterday in Lagos.
He added that such a situation, which is part of the challenges faced by seafarers, arose when a maritime dispute or robbery took place, leading to a vessel being arrested.
According to him, this exposes seafarers to a long stay in the port and considering the hazardous nature of their jobs, they cannot travel home and this affects them psychologically.
“A vessel can also be arrested and detained by the Navy when it is carrying crude oil without authorisation and this can take up to six to nine months before it is resolved and seafarers at times charged for it.
“Collective arrest is done by a security official even when there is a piracy attack and this exposes the seafarer to many hazards,” Ilogu said.
Director of Maritime Services, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), said that unfortunately, activities of pirates greatly affected seafarers in which some were alleged to work with the pirates.
According to him, seafarers are arrested with the pirates without charging them to court and this is not good for their mental health due to the nature of their job.
He added that to restore their confidence, the new Anti-piracy Law would bring succour to seafaring and seafarers in the country.
He noted that during the COVID-19 pandemic, NIMASA came up with a marine notice declaring them essential service providers, saying that as regards repatriating crew, it lied on shipowners.
Discussing issues faced by seafarers on the international scene, Mr Ben Bailey, Director of Advocacy International Centre, MTS London, said that lack of communication was the biggest challenge seafarers faced.
He noted that restriction during the COVID-19 had a drastic impact on their mental health, urging that repatriation should be approached with much sensitivity.
Prof. Ayodele Coker, a Clinical Psychologist, Lagos State University College of Medicine, noted that the welfare of a seafarer was in tandem with mental health.
According to him, seafarers are faced with depression, loneliness, abandonment, suicide and others and these affect their mental health and lead to disorder.
“Twenty-five per cent of seafarers suffer from depression; 15 per cent commits suicide in a year and so they need psychological interaction.
“The medical personnel on the ship should be aware of the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and policymakers, shipowners should ensure that there is a reduction in the stigma associated with a mental disorder,” he said.
Mrs Margret Orakwusi, President, Shipowners Forum, said that lack of safety of seafarers on our waterways was what bothered them, urging the government to look into the search and rescue missions.
“The welfare of seafarers is a give and take situation. When they are at sea, they are our problems and we have lost seamen due to piracy attacks; we are now bearing the burdens of their families.
“It is the responsibility of the government to provide a safe environment for business to thrive; security and safety that affect activities of seamen,” she said.
Mr Aminu Umar, Managing Director, Sea Transport Group, said that during the COVID-19, there were issues with changing crew due to the difficulties experienced in testing the crew to ensure they had no virus before boarding or disembarking the vessel.
The Chairman of the Mission to Seafarers Lagos (MTSL), Chief Adebayo Sarumi, called for support not only from regulatory organisations but also from private organisations to ensure that seafarers were given the needed support.