By Vivian Onyebukwa
Captain Kunle Olaiwola, from Ilawe Ekiti, Ekiti State, and at present, a Nautical Surveyor at Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, served in the Nigerian Navy between January 1983 and April 1994. During this career, he sailed onboard various international ships such as general cargo ships, crude/product oil tankers, anchor handling tug boats, Dp2, FPS0, and container ships. He rose from the ranks to take command as a ship captain onboard ocean and coastal ships during his sailing days. During the period, he worked in various organisations in UAE, Singapore, Malaysia, Nigeria, Angola, and UK. He experienced sailing across Asia, Africa, Micronesia, South America, the Baltic, the Bay of Bengal and Europe ocean/seas and ports. He has also sailed on various warships, and stone frigates (ashore based), and engaged on flag-showing tours and peacekeeping missions. Decorated with military medals, in the course of serving his country, Olaiwola, a seasoned Master Mariner, is the first Master Mariner in Nigeria and one of the few in the African continent to get to the highest level of membership of the Nautical Institute. Recently, he was selected as a fellow of the Nautical Institute, United Kingdom, at the Institute’s Annual General Meeting held in London in December 2021. The Nautical Institute is a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) with consultative status at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). In this interview, he spoke about his naval career, and his recent achievement as the first Master Mariner in Nigeria to get to the highest level of membership at the Nautical Institute, and his life generally.
Why did you decide to become a Naval Officer?
I am a retired Nigerian Navy personnel and currently a Merchant Seafarer or a Merchant Navy Officer. My life ambition has been to become a Master Mariner and a ship command captain and I thank God Almighty that I was able to get there.
How does it feel to be a Master Mariner?
I feel so great because many of my colleagues started this journey together with me from Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron, Akwa Ibom State many decades ago. We were 28 Nautical Cadets at the beginning. But only two out of the 28 made it to Master Mariner level, of which I and one other cadet are among. I made it with a ship command. There are some of my seniors onboard many ships that I served as a junior officer under them in many parts of the world. But today they are 3rd officers, 2nd officers, and Chief Officers. There were also some of my classmates at Singapore Academy. But one way or the other, they could not make it to Master Mariner due to the inability to pass their stages competency examination and oral interviews. These seniors onboard were made up of Nigerians and foreign seafarers. It is a joy and a job well done for me. I also thank God for this great achievement.
What is the challenge of being a mariner in Nigeria, and why are you convinced that you can turn things around?
Part of the challenges in this part of the world is mainly that there are not enough ships to serve onboard. Again, many youths that find it difficult to get a white-collar job, and also looking for a way to make money, are rushing to become seafarers. These youths are being deceived into this profession by mushroom maritime training centres that are trying to circumvent the standard procedure laid down by the Nigerian authority. I can assure you that the Nigerian maritime authority is using one of the teams to clamp down on any substandard activity in the sector and very soon Nigeria will become one of the best leading producers and exporters of standard seafarers in the world of the maritime market.
What can you say about the training in Nigeria?
Seafarers’ training is uniform, the same in all parts of the world. It is being guided by the International Maritime Organisation, Every littoral country of the world, and landlocked countries must comply with STCW Convention newly adopted. It is called the International Convention on Standard of Training Certification and Watch-keeping for Seafarers, 1978 as amended Manila 2010. They must comply with the International Convention of Safety of Life At Sea, International Safety Management, International Ship and Port Security, and ISO’s. The training in Nigeria is becoming a world standard owing to the determination of the authorities and some private sectors to ensure that the nation is not lagging behind. I am satisfied with the current state of capacity development and sustainability in the country’s maritime domain. The mushroom maritime training sectors are an impediment and soon the system will force them to pack.
Where is Nigeria in the shipping world?
Nigeria is not a pushover in the shipping world. We have well-trained maritime professionals that are doing their best in research and exchanging information and sharing with the rest of the world. There is serious maritime awareness going on in the country now and any organisation and shipping company that has no oars in their boats will be drifted away. This means gone are the days of shortcuts or anyhow practices in the Nigerian maritime trade. There are lots of resources and many interests that the world maritime trade experts are attracted to. You can see many deep seaports and maritime security all over to ensure that Nigeria is a new world maritime trade centre. And in all, there are legal backings to prosecute any illegal maritime activities in Nigeria. I am speaking as a professional of the Nautical Institute and a researcher.
What were some of your memorable moments while working in the Navy?
First, sailing to the Scandinavian region and seeing the sea becoming ice and the big iceberg moving on water. Another is, experiencing the turbulence in South China Sea, thunderstorms in the Pacific Ocean, and a hurricane at the Bay of Biscay. Also, good fun on the ships, and visiting ports and the beautiful city nightclubs after long days at sea are my memorable moments.
Could you recall your growing-up days?
I am from an average Nigerian home. My father is a retired Justice, and my mother, a restaurant and bar business entrepreneur. Life was good a bit but I started looking after myself at the age of 18 as a young military man. I trained myself in maritime studies. I also enjoyed initial naval training and maritime activities from the Nigerian Navy.
Are you fulfilled in life?
I have tried to focus on my life’s set goals with dedication. I am currently a fellow of the Nautical Institute and a Master Mariner. I hold a masters’ degree in International Maritime Law. I contribute my quota by mentoring young seafarers and ensuring that all junior officers that sailed with me onboard ships proceed in their chosen profession. I am married and blessed with children.
Is there any advice your parents gave you that has helped to shape your life?
Yes. They always told me, “Remember the son of whom you are”. My mother always said to me, “In life, people reap what they sow”. Home training and military training helped to shape my life.
What advice do you have for the youths?
Good things don’t come easy. Youths must slow down on shortcuts to success; they must be level-headed. The people that should provide jobs for the youths should help our society too. The bad politicians should stop using our youths to do evil to achieve positions. Youths should listen to their parents and good mentors too. To become successful in a profession, do not put material gains first but passion for the profession and other things shall be added.
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