NIMASA And The Need For More Protection For Non Sea-Faring Maritime Workers


Drawing from contemporary issues observed among operators in Nigeria’s maritime environment, particularly considering the decision by Nigeria to commence the enforcement of the various annexes of MARPOL mandatory requirement for tankers of 5,000 dead weight (dwt) and more to be fitted with double hulls, or an alternative design approved by the International Maritime Organisation.

It is therefore considered most needful at this time to draw the attention of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), to the subtle negative impacts to the marine environment and ecosystem due to ship-breaking and related operations.

And also make mention of the graveness of the exposures, to unsafe conditions as well as chronic and acute health and safety hazards by Nigerians working in private and public sectors of the economy within our maritime domain.

Prominent among these are seen in the activities of boat building and ship building and repairs in slipways, ship dockyards. Also among those engaged in ship breaking, demolition and scraping of sundry marine vessels and conveyances and infrastructures.

Here workers get infected with pneumoconiosis, asbestosis, silicosis and sundry acute occupationally induced respiratory disorders.

The main cause being inhalation of asbestos fibres from lagging materials, from ship breaking operations and from high concentrations of sand and paints particulates from blasting operations; often carried out without the use of appropriate personal protective equipments due to ignorance and negligence by employees and employers.

The above is a direct consequence of the absence of trained and certified safety personnel as well as the effective visible presence of relevant government regulators.

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What Is Ship-Breaking or Ship Demolition?
Ship-breaking or ship demolition simply refers to a method of ship disposal involving the breaking up of ships for either a source of parts, which can be sold for re-use, or for the extraction of raw materials, chiefly scrap. It is also known as ship dismantling, ship cracking, or ship recycling.

How Long Does It Take To Scrap A Ship?
In a slow and clean sweep, workers use torches, sledgehammers and sheer elbow grease to scrap the ship. It takes anywhere from two weeks to a year to dismantle a ship.

Is Ship Breaking Hazardous?
In addition to taking a huge toll on the health of workers, ship breaking is a highly polluting industry. Large amounts of carcinogens and toxic substances (PCBs, PVCs, PAHs, TBT, mercury, lead, isocyanates, sulfuric acid) not only intoxicate workers but are also dumped into the soil and coastal waters.

Mooring Rope Accident

Occupational Safety And Health Hazards In Ship-Breaking
Ship breaking has grown into a major occupational and environmental health problem across the world. It is amongst the most dangerous and most overlooked of occupations, with unacceptably high levels of fatalities, injuries and work-related diseases. Shipbreaking is a difficult process due to the structural complexity of the ships, and it generates many environmental, safety and health hazards. Carried out mainly in the informal sector, it is rarely subjected to safety controls or inspection. Workers usually lack personal protective equipment and have little training, if any. Inadequate safety controls, badly monitored work operations and high risk of explosions create very dangerous work situations. Workers have very limited access to health services and inadequate housing, welfare and sanitary facilities further exacerbate the plight of the workers.

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The world’s fleet of ships is about 90,000 vessels, and the average life of a ship is 20-25 years. The average number of large ships being scrapped each year is about 500-700, but taking into account vessels of all sizes, this number may be as high as 3,000. Ninety percent of the ship-breaking in the world is carried out in Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan and Turkey.

In addition to taking a huge toll on the health of workers, ship breaking is a highly polluting industry. Large amounts of carcinogens and toxic substances (PCBs, PVCs, PAHs, TBT, mercury, lead, isocyanates, sulfuric acid) not only intoxicate workers but are also dumped into the soil and coastal waters. An average size ship contains up to 7 tonnes of asbestos which is often sold in the local communities after scrapping.

As the majority of yards have no waste management systems or facilities to prevent pollution, shipbreaking takes an enormous toll on the surrounding environment, the local communities, fishery, agriculture, flora and fauna. This naturally causes serious environmental damage with long-term effects for occupational, public and environmental health.

To address this problem, the ILO, International Maritime Organization (IMO) and Basel Convention of UNEP have produced their guidelines to deal with various issues in this area within their respective mandates and established a joint working group to co-ordinate their activities and cooperation. The diplomatic conference of the IMO adopted a new international convention for the safe and environmentally sound recycling of ships in 2009.

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Like it is done to shipborne seafarers, it would be appreciated also in this regard, should NIMASA show commensurate concern towards the protection of this category of workers in our vast and mainly private sector dominated maritime domain.

In line with Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria Act 2014, (Act No. 2), NIMASA should appropriately collaborate with Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPON) and its licensed corporate affiliates to monitor and compel all employers engaged in the subject matter operations to ensure the delivery of appropriate professional competency developement trainings.
This is absolutely necessary for the enhancement and assurance of the health and safety of the concerned workforce.

About The Author

Timothy Iwuagwu is a retired naval engineer.(Master Warrant Officer) Specialist in Ship propulsion and control; Specialist in Industrial Safety Planning and Control Management and Fellow@Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria. He is Seafarer, who has participated in foreign naval missions and courses with Nigeria Navy Inspection Commission in Europe.

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