WORLD MARITIME DAY ON 29TH SEPTEMBER
IT gives me great pleasure to say that for the first time this celebration has high level participation of the government and the shipping industry in Kenya.
It is disheartening note that for a very long time, Kenyan Seafarers have been accorded a raw deal and inadequately represented.
They have also been short-changed by local maritime lawyers. They have simply been ignored, underrated or rejected by their oppressors and by their own Union leaders and local ITF Inspector whom are supposed to help them.
They have so far not been able to find the wherewithal to efficiently oblige the government of Kenya and the employers to make amends for their unjust treatment of Kenyan Seafarers.
It is a sad reality that 80% of Kenyan Seafarers are unemployed and those employed are, in effect, people deprived of their basic rights and lacking any recourse to normal grievance procedures.
A study in labor market opportunities and constraints we conducted in 2002 showed that 460 Kenyan Seafarers work aboard local and foreign owned fishing vessels while 220 work aboard coastal and foreign Ocean going Merchant Ships.
To date, the number of those working aboard the merchant vessels has decreased by half to mere 110 seafarers. On the other hand, the number of those currently working aboard fishing vessels is just 230 seafarers.
Apart from being underpaid, Kenyan Seafarers usually have no regular hours of work, and rest periods are inadequate.
It hurts to say there are no proper agreements; safety and health measures, medical care at sea, no social security aboard the vessels.
Besides being under-manned, the vessels are sub-standard.
Over the last 10 years, Kenyan Seafarers have been subjected to many documented sea piracies along the Somali territorial waters involving 12 fishing vessels and 8 cargo ships.
Those who have come face to face with sea robbery tell chilling tales; but, driven by the need to earn a living they have developed a sense of daredevil.
Some were caught twice or thrice, but they are not about to be scared into joblessness.
Truly, the experience of the hostages is more heart-rending.
Owing to the culture of fear, inhuman conditions on ships, such as physical and mental abuse and even murder, are also under-reported because the Seafarers are afraid.
The Seafarers maintain a culture of fear because they know that if they complain they will lose not only their present but possibly their future jobs.
Between 1983 and 2006, some 47 Kenyan Mariners lost their lives at Sea 12 were seriously injured, 37 suffered frost-bitten fingers, while 10 went missing under mysterious circumstances.
The number of Kenyan Deck and Engineer Officers has declined by 7% since 1998.
On current trends, the number of Kenyan Merchant Navy Officers will be less than 20 by the end of next year.
A study we carried last year estimates that some 16% of Officers possessing valid certificates are working ashore.
It also shows that more than 58% of certified officers are aged over 48 with less than one quarter being 35 or under.
This year we observe the day with renewed optimism because in February a comprehensive convention on Maritime Labor Standards was adopted, which - if ratified and implemented – will open the way for the emergence of a new Maritime World Order that will offer new opportunities for Seafarers to obtain decent and productive work.
But, on the other hand we were disappointed that the proposed convention on work in the Fishing Sector was not approved during the 93rd ILO Conference in 2005.
This ILO instrument would have made all kind of professional fishing a safer and more than just a working place.
It is hoped that it will be presented again and adopted at the next ILO Conference.
It is hence important that the Government of Kenya join forces with other countries to promote the understanding and the adoption of this instrument.
Inspite of the fact that the shipping trade is enjoying a period of growth and that the demand for fisheries products is unprecedented, globalization is putting the dignity of the human persons involved in shipping and fishing under heavy strain and life at Sea is still difficult and dangerous.
Globalization of labor and finance in shipping; illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing; and also rigid regulations that do not take into account essential needs of fishing communities are causing harm to the maritime profession and environment.
In order to overcome these obstacles there is a need for the Government of Kenya
Formulate and develop a national maritime policy which should provide guidelines, on administration and regulations of the Maritime Industry, Maritime Trade, Maritime Services, Seafarers And Fishers’ Welfare, Port Administration, Maritime Security, Admiralty Jurisdiction, Maritime Education, Training and Research, Marine Pollution and the appropriate legislative framework;
Address the legislative and institutional framework for Maritime Administration in Kenya.
Completely overhaul the Employment Act and the Merchant Shipping Act so as to incorporate various Maritime Conventions and agreements to which Kenya is a signatory. It hurts to state here that the Fisheries Act does not provide labour protection for fishers.
It is also disheartening to note that the Labour Laws of Kenya re silent about fishers and Seafarers’ Welfare.
Throughout the past two decades Kenya Government has done a lot on port management reforms. But, she has overlooked the development of Seafarers and Fishers.
However, it gives great joy to note that with the assistance of the IMO the Government of Kenya last year sponsored 79 Seafarers for a 21-day STCW training at the Dar-es-Salaam Maritime Institute, Tanzania.
There is an urgent need of action into these matters sooner rather than later because they offer practical and direct aid to encourage the recruitment and retention of Kenyan Seafarers aboard coastal and foreign ocean-going vessels as well as fishing vessels.
As adept of honor and in conclusion we would be glad if the government of Kenya could ensure the families of Kenyan seafarers who have been maimed or who perished several years ago in the high seas are compensated.
We would also be very grateful if the Government of Kenya could make public the findings of the Justice O’kubasu Committee of Inquiry into the disappearance of the Panama flagged Mt Harrier in 1986.
SEAFARER’S ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
P.O. Box 92273
Cell:00254 721 393458
Fax: 00254 41 230001E Fax:18014093908