Ms Hadiza Bala-Usman, Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), has called for review of established systems for checking molestation and other crimes against women in the maritime industry.
Bala-Usman made the call at a webinar on ”Enforcing Policies and Legal Instruments Against Sexual Harassment and Exploitation in the Maritime Industry”.
The webinar was organised by Women in Maritime Journalism (WIMAJ) to commemorate the 2020 Day of Seafarers.
According to Bala-Usman, who was represented by Mrs Funmilayo Olotu, Apapa Port Manager, NPA, there is need for everyone to boldly condemn sexual harassment and exploitation across board.
“In recent times, the media have been awash with heartrending stories of different categories of the female specie of homo-sapiens that have been victims of gruesome abuses, molestations and fatalities.
“I want all of us to note that most of these reported cases occurred on land and within policed jurisdictions.
“Now, can we begin to imagine what female seafarers are facing on the wide expanse of waters coursing through continents in the literal no-man’s-land, and out of sight?
“It is, therefore, imperative that the maritime sector reviews established systems for checking acts of molestation and criminality against the womenfolk in the industry,” she said.
The NPA boss said that a cursory search through the web revealed that anyone could be sexually assaulted at any time and in any location onboard a ship, adding that cases of sexual assault on ships were rarely prosecuted.
She said that the risk of sexual crimes onboard ships was getting higher, adding that there was a dearth of statistics on that.
The managing director said that there were gaps in international laws where victims were faced with the reality that ‘a floating city’ offered no cogent protection based on ambiguous jurisdictional boundaries.
According to her, Nigerian seafarers cannot be exempted from the challenges highlighted, as they are confined to living onboard ships for months with the opposite sex and susceptible to attacks.
“The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, in 2017, had 2,279 reported cases of rape and indecent assault, 1,164 reported cases of unnatural offences (i.e anal sex), zero convictions reported by the police, and only one out of 36 states reporting no case of indecent assault.
“Narrowing the data down to the maritime sector, are there reported cases or just a culture of silence?
“How much of the reported cases are thoroughly investigated and concluded? Do we actually enforce policies and legal instruments against sexual assaults?
“How do incidents affect the productivity of victims and overall delivery of the industry?
“What kinds of penalty are meted out by organisations? How adequate are those penalties? Do we need to review policies and laws in this regard?” she asked.
She pointed out that sexual harassment and exploitation (whether males harassing or exploiting females, females harassing or exploiting males or even same sex doing so) was infringement on human rights and should not be permitted.
She said that organisations must encourage victims to report such cases, adding that the industry should be willing to painstakingly carry out unbiased investigations and punish perpetrators according to the law.
“At the Nigerian Ports Authority, we have zero tolerance for sexual harassment and exploitation, and we encourage persons in our employ and those involved in ports operations to report such incidents,” she said.
In her welcome address, Mrs Ezinne Azunna, Chairperson, WIMAJ, said that WIMAJ’s core objectives, which alligned with the objectives of the International Maritime Organisation, motivated the association’s interest in the subject of discourse.
She said that it was regrettable that news about sexual harassment and exploitation in the country recently surged.
She wondered how female seafarers living in confined spaces – on board vessels – for prolonged periods had coped.
She noted that in many nations, there were ongoing efforts focused on eliminating sexual harassment and exploitation, adding that the webinar would drive the need for deliberate creation and enforcement of policies among regulatory agencies and stakeholders.
“We hope that this discourse will throw up issues and decisions to ensure that those who make the career choice to serve in the maritime industry do not end up bruised, battered, stigmatised and crippled by the actions of some unscrupulous people,” she said.