December 17, 2003

Kenya: Merchant Shipping Act.

The year 2002 was an important commemorative year in Kenya.  It was the year the ignoble regime of Daniel Arap Moi was conquered, and 54 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

It was also the year the task force on the review of maritime laws of Kenya was appointed to review maritime laws in Kenya and make appropriate recommendations.

The appointment of the task force on the review of maritime laws was a major milestone in the efforts by the country to redress the weaknesses of the outdated Merchant Shipping Act.

By May 2003 the task force came up with a report which contains comprehensive recommendations of which are believed to be an important contribution to the process of transforming Kenya into a world class maritime nation.

It is disheartening to note here in that since last May when the task force submitted the final report to Hon. Attorney General the government of Kenya has been back –peddling on this important issue.

As this is a serious violation of seafarers’ rights we call upon the government of Kenya to urgently take appropriate action unto this matter.

For, majority of Kenyan Seafarers are unemployed and this is due to the lack of training as required in terms of the international Standards of Training and Certification of Watch keeping for seafarers (STCW-95) of which has been brought about by the outdated maritime laws of Kenya.

The Kenya Merchants Shipping Act is derivative of the UK Merchant Shipping Act of 1894, which has since been amended severally while our act has remained the same.

The current Act is over 35 years old, outdated and does not cover the important international shipping and maritime legislation conventions to which Kenya is a party.

The inadequacy of the current Merchant Shipping Act has also been the disability of Kenya to meet the minimum requirements for the acceptance into IMO’s “white list” of nations, which have complied with the STCW-95 convention.

This has been a stumbling block to Kenyan merchant mariners, as they do not qualify for employment on foreign and local owned ocean – going vessels.

Kenya has 3,280 seafarers comprised of merchant navy officers, marine engineers, divers, ratings and fish workers. Only 20% are currently employed.

A part from the fragmented and scarce maritime education in Kenya there is also lack of maritime policy, which has been a major setback to the development of Kenya’s maritime activities.

This has contributed to the domination by foreign shipping agencies who control over 80% of the maritime services industry in Kenya of which is contrary to United Nations Conference Liner on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

It hurts very much to say that Kenyan seafarers and other seafarers calling the port of Mombasa are working aboard sub-standard ships.  Because the Merchant Shipping Act fails to give the Merchant Shipping Superintendent the legal basis to inspect the ships that call on our seaports in order to enhance safety of shipping.

As this is a serious violation of seafarers’ rights we once again call upon the government of Kenya to urgently address this matter.

The Merchant Shipping Act, is the principal maritime legislation in Kenya.  It makes provision for the registration and licensing of ships and ship owners, safety of navigation, oil pollution, ship inspection and maritime casualties including salvage.

The Act has been amended in 1967, 1968, 1973 and in 1981.

Andrew Mwangura