By Anthony Nwachukwu
Government’s plans for a new shipping line to halt the yearly $10 billion loss to foreign ship charter are already hitched as the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) has put in front the long-denied benefits of the seafarers of the liquidated Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL).
At a strategic roundtable on the progress of the maritime sector Tuesday in Lagos, the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy, Mr. Gboyega Oyetola, had announced plans to refloat a shipping line under a public-private partnership arrangement.
However, MWUN President-General, Comrade Adewale Adeyanju, said that such plan would remain a mirage if the retired seafarers, who worked tirelessly with deep sense of patriotism for the country, were not given their due rights after 28 years since leaving the service.
In a statement Wednesday by the Head of Media, Comrade John Ikemefuna, the union insisted that national carrier vessels would only amount to injustice of the highest order and would be tantamount to placing the cart before the horse if such proposal did not first consider the aged seafarers and other issues that crippled the liquidated NNSL.
Adeyanju recalled that at the commissioning of the Mission to Seafarers Centre in Apapa recently, he briefed the minister on the enormous tasks ahead in his ministry and major issues confronting the union, especially the protracted unpaid entitlements and pensions of disengaged seafarers of the liquidated NNSL.
“The union is now having a different view of the minister when he did not speak about the aged seafarers who navigated with the moribund national carrier vessels over the new NNSL proposal,” the statement cited Adeyanju to say.
“MWUN’s major challenges have not been resolved over the years with several ministers of transportation as regards the settlement of the retiree, aged seafarers.
“Other issues confronting the blue economy, which have not been given a clear-cut definition and mode of operation, are still worrisome to the union as we speak.”
“We, as a labour union, will not sit aloof and keep watching our aged seafarers continue suffering unnecessary penury after meritorious years of service to their fatherland.
“It’s true that some of the aged seafarers have died from various types of ailments, some from psychological torture and trauma, mental degradation, abject poverty and so much more that has weighed them down in depression.”
He further recalled that the former Minister of Transportation, Muazu Sambo, also set up a committee involving the ministries of Transportation and Labour, which was charged with “carrying out physical verification exercise of the aged seafarers.”
According to him, the union thought it “would have brought some sort of succour, but the story is still the same. It’s indeed unfortunate to say that the committee has never met.
“So, where do we go from here, when you want to refloat the NNSL with no consideration for the seafarers who served the defunct carrier vessels?
“This is unheard of anywhere globally. Therefore, the assertion for a new NNSL is mirage in its conception, except the needful is done.”
However, Adeyanju urged Oyetola to see how he could bring the seafarers’ protracted plight to a logical conclusion, as his new ministry of Marine and Blue Economy cannot function without maritime workers.
He insisted that blue economy having emerged a global concept in 2012, MWUN should be part of the policy process in conformity with the rules of social inclusion and collaboration.
The blue economy must be seen to strengthen social equity, “hence our disposition, given the aged seafarers’ debacle which is yet to receive serious attention.”
Nevertheless, Adeyanju assured the minister of MWUN’s support to enable Nigeria achieve much in the sector in his tenure.