By Steve Agbota, Lagos

As the 2024 International Women’s Day (IWD) celebration around corner, Female Seafarers Association of Nigeria (FESAN) has decried the prevalence of a huge discrimination against female seafarers by Nigerian ship owners.

Speaking at a special edition of Live Conversations on Maritime TV Africa in commemoration of IWD 2024, the President of FESAN, Koni Duniya, disclosed that Nigeria has only recorded only 5 per cent growth in female seafaring since 2019 in the country.

At the virtual live broadcast themed; “Female Inclusion in Seafaring: The Nigerian Case Study,” Duniya, noticed that at the lower-end of cadetship FESAN’s record lists 100 junior cadets while only three are currently in the senior cadre of the seafaring career.

“We have several female seafarers whose licenses have expired and they can’t renew it because they can’t get jobs. The situation is bad because manning agencies are directly telling females that ship owners don’t want them.”

“Many females remain at the bottom because of the gender bias in the maritime industry. Some others can’t progress to the senior level because they can’t afford the necessary trainings. For those whose parents were able to send them to school for the basic training, they can’t proceed further because of the high costs,” she explained.

Nevertheless, she said if they had been able to go onboard ships, they would utilise their stipends to augment their fees to upgrade their certificates.

While emphasising the importance of data of the nation’s seafarers, Duniya lamented that if everybody in the shipping industry in 2019 made commitment to foster inclusivity of women in the industry there would have been no place to find the female seafarers.

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“FESAN started by trying to provide the data of women in the industry. We want to monitor our progress and growth. 254 females are in the cadetship cadre as trainees. Several girls are looking for sea time opportunities. For female seafarers’ development in Nigeria, we are still at an infancy stage because there is a lot of work to do for female seafarers to grow to the senior cadre,” she added.

Meanwhile, she noted that over 30 female seafarers who were unemployed until their licenses expired now require financial assistance to pay for mandatory courses in preparation for cadetship/sea time.

“We have members who graduated school with mandatory course but 26 require placement onboard for sea time. Some members with sea time require financial assistance for oral exams. There also members with Certificate of Competence (CoC) and required mandatory courses but are looking for onboard employment opportunities. Some other members whose CoC and other certifications have expired.”

“When we started FESAN, we were excited that everyone was interested in improving the seafaring opportunities for women; but when we started knocking on the doors of companies, we realised that only few organisations were interested. It is the efforts of those few companies that have led to little progress,” Duniya said.

Despite the creation of a new Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy, Duniya maintained that the dream of attaining blue economy potentials in Nigeria wouldn’t be realised if the nation doesn’t prioritise seafaring.

“There is also an issue with VISA approvals in Nigeria. India and Philippines are leading nations in seafaring globally and their seafarers have up to 10 years US visa approvals. As soon as they have contracts, they pack their bags and travel.

“In Nigeria, we have girls who have crewing employment for vessels that work in U.S but they can’t get visas to join the vessel. A vessel owner can’t wait forever, so if the Nigerians can’t get visas the opportunity goes to other seafarers that are more accessible,” she stated.

She equally observed that CoCs from Nigeria still haven’t attained global acceptance despite the existence of Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron since 1977.