World Maritme Day-2007

Once again the forgotten Kenyan seafarers are observing World Maritime Day heart-broken.They feel betrayed by the government of Kenya and the Kenya Maritime Authority.

In March 2005, the then Transport Minister Dr. Chris Murungaru launched Kenya Maritime Authority.

Established by President Mwai Kibaki through a legal notice number 79 of 2004, the KMA is bestowed with sweeping powers to regulate, coordinate and manage maritime affairs in the country.

KMA is expected to co-ordinate implementation of Maritime policy, advise the government on all maritime affairs, discharge flag and port state controls, maintain and administer the ship register, handle maritime search and rescue, enforce safety of shipping and inspect ships.

The Authority is also empowered to oversee training, recruitment and welfare of Kenya Seafarers; plan, monitor and evaluate casualties and regulate shipping in Inland waterways. In establishing the KMA, the Government responded-albeit late- to the reform calls by the industry.

But it is sad that the establishment of the Kenya Maritime Authority has not gone hand in hand with the development and progress of Seafarers. For instance, there is currently a big shortage of Merchant Naval officers, Engineers and Ratings in Inland navigation, Coastal and foreign ocean going vessels. 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 9 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 in 2005 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 2006 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.

It also gives great joy to note that on the 14th June 2007,the ILO at it’s 96th Annual Conference adopted new labour standard s for the world’s fishing sector. 

This new ILO instrument will make all kind of professional fishing a safer and more than just a working place. The convention when ratified will improve the living and working conditions for more than 90% of the entire world’s estimated 41 million fishers. It is hence important that the Government of Kenya join forces with other countries to promote the understanding and the adoption of these two ILO instruments.

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 we strongly believe that there is a need for the Government of Kenya to:

  • 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.

  • Establish the Merchant Shipping Act;

  • Enact the Pollution Control Act;

  • Establish Maritime Training to put Kenya on the IMO white list;

  • Do away with the Merchant Shipping Levy on cargo interest.

The Merchant Shipping Levy on cargo interest and taxation from shippers which ends up funding KMA is irregular. The KMA collects Kshs.10 million monthly from the shippers on the other hand the KMA receives Kshs.200 million annual from the government which was collected from the shippers. Truly this is double taxation to shippers.

It is also disheartening to note that the Labour Laws of Kenya are 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.

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.

Andrew Mwangura

Andrew Mwangura
P.O. Box 92273
Mombasa,80102 Kenya.
Cell:00254 721 393458

Fax: 00254 41 230001

E Fax:18014093908


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