World Maritime Day: Senegal, here's your chance

World Maritime Day is a crucial opportunity for Senegal to review the major issues and challenges surrounding maritime education.

If Senegal wants to become an international shipping hub, ‘it must face the challenge of seafarers’ training.’ This was part of a statement made by Oumar Guèye, the Senegalese minister of fisheries and maritime economy, at a recent ceremony in Dakar.

Today, 24 September, is World Maritime Day. Guèye’s statement echoes the key messages of this year’s event, which is themed ‘Maritime Education and Training’.

Senegal’s National Agency for Maritime Affairs (NAMA) will mark the occasion with a symposium that will allow those involved in maritime education to align their programmes with the needs of the maritime industry.

NAMA’s commemoration of World Maritime Day will be held on 30 September next week. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) allows member states flexibility in terms of when they observe the event. The symposium will be structured along three sub-themes, namely the quality of education; building the capacity of artisanal fishermen; and training on port professions.

To become an international shipping hub, Senegal must face the challenges around maritime training

About 80% of accidents in maritime navigation can be attributed to human error. Education is therefore key, and the IMO sets strict standards for the content and quality of seafarers’ training.

To help prevent such accidents, the Convention on Training Standards for Seafarers, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) was adopted in 1978. It has been amended several times – most recently in 2010. The STCW aims to prevent unqualified staff from being placed in charge of maritime navigation. It requires that each member state set up a system to control the quality of training and seafarers’ certification.

When crew members have not graduated from a maritime centre that meets the STCW requirements, a vessel is classified as sub-standard and can be seized during port controls. In addition to these navigation standards, all sailors must master the security and safety measures prescribed by the Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). In particular, they must be familiar with the International Safety Management (ISM) Code and the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code – two mandatory quality assurance systems.

The second sub-theme – building the capacity of artisanal fishermen – is also significant given that Senegal has a sizeable population of fishermen who do not have a formal maritime education. In most cases, the profession is passed on from father to son. As a result, Senegal’s maritime administration will launch a project at the symposium to professionalise this group of fishermen.

About 80% of accidents in maritime navigation can be attributed to human error

Traditional fishermen are not aware of international fishery standards. The project will equip them with basic knowledge in this regard, and the trainees will subsequently receive certificates allowing them to command open boats. After recording a certain period of navigation, they can qualify as ‘professional fishermen,’ which will allow them to work on industrial fishing vessels.

The third, and last, sub-theme on port professions will create an opportunity for education and training institutions to promote new modules. This will likely include discussions on the new ‘Port Masters’ programme. Developed three years ago, this programme provides support staff to officers who deal principally with the positioning of ships in port and maritime safety.

The event will also be an occasion to raise key questions around employment opportunities, and how regional maritime schools can maximise their role. This might include discussions on which industrial fishing vessels can provide employment opportunities for national professional fishermen. Some 38 industrial fishing vessels from European Union countries are currently authorised to operate in Senegalese waters, following an agreement signed last year. The agreement does not stipulate how many Senegalese fishermen ought to be on the crew lists of the foreign vessels. Instead, it only specifies that these ships must have crews made up of 20% Senegalese or Africa Caribbean Pacific (ACP) seamen – there are 79 ACP countries.

On the inclusion of Senegalese workers, there is only one requirement that foreign industrial shipping vessels must adhere to: they must have on board a Senegalese observer, whose salary is borne by the Senegalese government. Absorbing people trained in port professions into the maritime workforce could also be problematic given that the maritime industry does not always make clear which education and training needs are in demand.

Senegal has a sizeable population of fishermen who do not have a formal maritime education

Training schools are often profit driven. As such, they might accept more students than are needed in the maritime labour market, thereby increasing the number of job seekers for a limited set of positions. 

The Senegalese government will likely find positions for the 14 port masters who have already been trained for this work at the government’s initiative. They could potentially be employed at the seaport of Dakar and the four secondary ports of Ziguinchor, Kaolack, Saint Louis and Foundiougne Ndakhonga.

However, new port masters trained in the future might not benefit from the same opportunity, as the demand for such workers is very limited.

The question of resources being mutualised at the regional or inter-regional level might also be discussed at the symposium. The Maritime Organisation of West and Central Africa, which has 25 member states including Senegal, has established two centres of excellence in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire and Accra, Ghana. Senegal has stopped sending participants to these centres for many years, despite recommendations from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

World Maritime Day is a crucial opportunity for Senegalese maritime authorities to review the major issues and challenges related to maritime education in the country.

They should view this day as a chance to receive and respond to constructive criticism from stakeholders: an essential step forward in boosting the country’s blue economy.

Barthélemy Blédé, Senior researcher and André Diouf, Intern, Conflict Management and Peacebuilding Division, ISS Dakar

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