Further to a request from the National Seafarers Welfare Board of Nigeria (a voluntary organisation) and following a substantial amount of preparatory work, Peter Tomlin of the UK Merchant Navy Welfare Board representing the IPWP recently visited and helped set up new Port Welfare Committees (PWCs) in 3 major Nigerian ports. The ports of Apapa and Tin Can Island are located near Lagos. The Port of Onne, Port Harcourt, is situated some 450km from Lagos and is classified as an ‘essential travel only’ region. Nigeria has ratified ILO MLC, 2006.
All 3 major ports are located within a piracy region that remains active. Indeed, a piracy incident occurred off the coast during the visit. All vessels take appropriate precautions such as barbed wire around their guard rails etc. Each one of the ports is extremely busy and conditions within the port are generally better than those immediately outside the port boundaries, which no doubt influences seafarers plans to proceed ashore. Only Apapa port has any dedicated shore based seafarers’ welfare facilities in the form of an old, well-used ‘portacabin’ style ‘drop in’ centre located next to the Port Offices. This small ITF Seafarers Trust funded centre has been repaired after severe storm damage, however, it remains in very poor condition, in need of further repairs and is probably beyond economic repair. The Apostleship of the Sea and Mission to Seafarers Port Chaplains, and a Seafarers UK funded social worker in combination with trained volunteers provide welfare services. An ITFST funded 8 seater minibus is fully utilised to provide a ship welfare visiting programme and is also used to take seafarers ashore for shopping. Tin Can Island does not have any welfare facilities but it is understood there are plans in place for an ITFST Communications Pod to be situated within the port. The Port of Onne also has no dedicated welfare facilities. Notwithstanding, like Tin Can Island and Apapa, Onne does have strong, supportive port management and now possesses a PWC, under the national welfare board, that is capable of reviewing, supporting and overseeing the maintenance of future seafarers’ welfare improvements.
Nigeria is greatly dependant on its ports and is one of the few countries that has actually formed a national seafarers’ welfare board i.a.w. MLC, 2006 with proactive government support. Each new PWC has been formed with attendance from Government, Shipowners, Unions, Port Owners/Authorities and Voluntary Organisations. The port of Apapa benefits from the support of proactive Mission to Seafarers & Apostleship of the Sea Port Chaplains and a Seafarers UK funded social worker who are doing an excellent job of providing welfare support to seafarers and their families. Welfare support extends to visiting seafarers on ships, those affected by piracy, hospitalised and in prison.
It is recommended that the newly formed PWCs review the seafarers’ welfare facilities in their ports at the earliest opportunity. Grants are probably required to financially support improvements to seafarers’ welfare in any or all of the aforementioned ports. There are further plans to establish new PWCs in the ports of Warri and Calabar.