BY ANDREW MWANGURA
2019 is coming to a closure and Kenyans moments to reflect on how it has been and make plans for the year ahead, 2020, is in topgear.
But they will have to pause a little and think or remember those in captivity either abducted or abandoned in foreign lands such as two Kenyan civil engineers still languishing in Somalia since 2014.
George Macharia Mburu and George Macharia Njoki were kidnapped on or about January 12, 2014 in Hodan District near Trabuun Stadium.
At the time, they were working for a construction company known as East African Construction Company of at a Petrol Station in Mogadishu.
According to sources unknown militia from Habargidir (Ayr) abducted them claiming ransom of one million US dollars from their families which to date they have not been to raise.
The captors are believed to be under the control of Mohammed Gafanje. The last known location of the hostages aged 37 and 41 years old respectively is Harardhere District in Galgaduud region.
The captees Mr Mburu (37) and Mr Njoki (41) are cousins married with children aged between 11 years and 5 years old with the former having three and the latter two. Their last communication with their family members was on January 12, 2014 after being expected to return home on January 15.
Fear over their safety and whereabouts persist because they have been deprived of contacting their families since then not to mention the trauma they must be undergoing since their ships came under attack with automatic weapons prior to their kidnap and demand for ransom.
Most of those held captive live in deplorable/appalling conditions under guard of psychic armed criminals whose actions are unpredictable.
Fast forward to last September 2019 when a vehicle plunged into the dark sea aboard mv Harambee with its cargo of a-mother-and-her-4-year-old-daughter at the Likoni ferry channel. The ferry was mid-stream heading towards the island crossing point.
In Mozambique’s Port of Pemba, 10 Kenyan crew members aboard a Comoros flagged general cargo vessel, mv Nina, are langushing in abject poverty after being abandoned there since August this year.
They are facing an avalanche of problems ranging from fuel running out of stock to fresh water supply and ship stores. The vessel is owned and managed by a Maputo based Mozambican business man Jr. Ally Mateus and Iranian national Mr. Haji Nawaz.
Statistics indicate that cases of seafarers’ abandonment are in the increase with 14 new ones being recorded by the end of November this year. A total of 791 merchant mariners aboard 44 vessels were abandoned last year (2018) with only 15 of them resolved as at end of the same year.
Of the cases reported in the said year, eight cases involved flag states which had not ratified MLC 2006. The amendment of MLC 2006 requires ship-owners to have compulsory insurance cover on the last five years. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) reports between 12 and 19 crew abandonment incidents were reported annually with a total of 1,013 seafarers involved.
This indicates rising cases of human rights violations touching on scandalous abandonment of both ships and crews thus illustrating worsening social conditions within international trade operations.
The breach of contract between the ship’s agent and the ship-owner quickly leads to the total disruption of supplies to the ship and its crew forcing ports to confine such vessels to the quayside with or without her cargo on board, but posing a safety risks.
Competition brought about by globalised world economy is forcing some ship-owners to manage their fleet on shoe-string budgets through the use of ‘economic’ flag and lowered charges on freight and exploiting crew staff members.
This has resulted into ships which may be both old and ill-maintained and have a number of deficiencies with respect to international safety norms operating in different ports of call manifesting often poorly trained and paid crew-members.
An absence of a genuine link between the ship-owner and the state whose flag he/she is using that leads to a dilution of responsibility among numerous intermediaries, further facilitated by the use of shell-companies.
This is basically the pattern even for ships sailing under such flags respecting the ILO norms and have crews paid according to its or ITF rates. The recourse of such ‘economical’ ships does not guarantee crew abandonment in a foreign port, especially if the ship’s value is less than her total debts.
Abandonment becomes, in fact, a clever stratagem to get rid of one’s debts and not to have to pay the crew. It even happens that the ship-owner may buy back his ship at auction by means of a go-between and a borrowed name. Therefore, this problem calls for international solutions that can be applicable to all maritime countries.
To effect this, there is need for specific legislation and more effective co-operation between countries and ratification of the international convention on arrest of ships (Geneva 1999). The legal procedures for arrest and sale of ships where crews’ salaries are factored should be improved and simplified.
First priority should be given to the payment of crews’ salaries from the revenues from the auction of such vessels.
It is also necessary to empower port states to ensure that abandoned seafarers have decent living conditions; have access to the national legal system to retrieve their wages; are repatriated at the ship – owner’s or flag state’s expense and their ship sold expeditiously in order to minimize the hardships frequently endured.
The shipowners and their agents should be made responsible and liable for their actions when abandoning a crew without wages or means of repatriation in violation of workers’ and human rights (as set out in article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
Lastly, the provisions of the convention 163 and 173 on seafarers’ welfare should be incorporated into national legislation governing port activities; and to ensure their effective implementation.
Andrew Mwangura is a maritime activist with vast experience of maritime related emerging issues