SEAFARERS and maritime workers have expressed frustration that they are having to live aboard their ships during the current crisis as the lack of crew changes and their inability to discharge their cargoes has made them virtual prisoners aboard their vessels.
Worldwide, the massive reduction in the delivery of shipping cargoes and the lockdown of ports, has meant that the crew onboard many vessels have not been relieved as normal. In the case of Nigeria, many of her oil tankers have been unable to sell their petroleum, meaning that the crew have to remain onboard while the ships stay on the high seas looking for buyers.
Globally, vessels have neglected to change their crew members because of the pandemic and this prolonged stay has led to increasing frustration among seafarers, making some of them aggressive. Douglas Eromoboh, the deputy president of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), raised the alarm recently when two seafarers stabbed each other onboard in frustration.
He said that on oil platforms and rigs, seafarers were attacking their captains because they wanted to go home. Mr Eromoboh threatened that the union could be forced to take a drastic action that would lead to shutting down the oil and gas sector.
Mr Eromoboh advised the governors of Lagos and Rivers states to call for a meeting with the president of the MWUN, Comrade Adewale Adeyanju, on how the seafarers could be easily taken off the vessels. He accused the federal government of ignoring the fact that crews are only supposed to serve for between three months and six months at a time.
“Seafarers are crying that they have overstayed aboard vessels and they want to go home. International law says that every seafarer should stay onboard vessel for three months or six months latest but all of them are stuck onboard because of lockdown.
“They have now started fighting their captains. They are even almost killing one another right now and I just got a report where a seafarer stabbed another because he is crazy.
“Seafarers are going crazy now and they are becoming crazy and lunatics. For a seafarer to stay six months onboard a vessel, he is no longer normal. If a naval man stays onboard a vessel for more than four months, there would be mutiny because he is tired and wants to go to his family.
“We have seafarers on oil platforms, oil rigs, onboard vessels and so on but right now, Governor Wike have said that if seafarers are not cleared of the Covid-19 virus, they should not go onboard vessels. Right now, we are facing a lot of problems because where the crude oil is being refined, where they are loading and offloading, we have seafarers all over,” Mr Eromoboh added.
He insisted that the government could not keep seafarers onboard vessels for one year or as long as the lockdown would last. According to the union, nobody is looking at protecting the seafarers and addressing the matter of crew exchange.