15 seamen who had been left penniless by their employer for two weeks finally accepted a lower pay than their expectations after authorities brokered an uneasy truce between them and the vessel owner.
Following week-long negotiations in which the seamen had refused to take Sh630, 000 instead of their demand of Sh1.97 million, State authorities and the Chinese ship owners decided to employ the carrot and stick principle to break the stalemate.
Last Friday, officials from the Kenya Maritime Authority, the Kenya Coast Guard, Ministry of Labour and the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) together with the vessel owners’ representatives reportedly visited the ship and told the seamen to either take the offer or ship out.
And on Saturday, police dramatically arrested an American tourist Mr. Boyd Corbid, who had offered to assist them with legal representation as well as food and other essentials shortly after he led journalists to the ship that has docked off the Malindi shoreline for over two weeks.
The police did not immediately state the offences the American tourist had committed, with Malindi Sub County Police Commander Stephen Lekuta refusing to say why his officers were holding the man.
“Is the American not a human being. How many people have been arrested and are serving terms in jail? What is so special about the arrest of the foreigner?” Mr. Lekuta, who said he was not in his office, retorted over the phone. Mr. Boyd was later released without any charges being preferred against him.
And later, the trick worked when four of the 15 seamen decided to take the offer given by the Chinese owners even after signing documents with a legal officer. Those who took the money first said they had families to take care of and would not continue refusing the money.
Seeing that their colleagues had betrayed them, the rest of the crew reluctantly took what was availed to them and allowed the vessel owners to take the ship away.
The seafarers were left penniless when they were abandoned by their Korean employer, Yang Xian, the ship’s captain and engineer two weeks ago. Journalists highlighted their plight, leading to authorities to look for the owners of the ship since the Korean had reportedly fled the country.
According Mr. Stephen Mwangi who claimed to be a partner with the Chinese owners, the Chinese owner had stepped in to pay the seafarers because he wanted to take his vessel for repairs and accused the 15 seamen of holding the vessel hostage.
“Although the owner of the vessel is not the seamen’s employer, he has decided to pay them so he can take the vessel away for repairs, but the seamen have held the ship hostage and are now allowing foreigners to trespass into the vessel,” Mwangi said.
He claimed that what the seamen were doing was trying to extort the ship owners and the employer, adding that they had allowed themselves to be incited to hold the vessel hostage.
Earlier, journalists visited the vessel and witnessed firsthand the hard life the seafarers were going through. They had neither food nor water. Parts of the vessel, especially their ‘bedrooms’ were infested with bedbugs and cockroaches and they feared they could contract dangerous diseases.
Mr. Kennedy Otieno, one of the seamen, said they were demanding Sh1.97 million accumulated over three months and that they would not allow anybody to trick them into receiving the offer of Sh630,000.
He claimed that the seamen were fearing for their lives after they were told to accept the offer or face unspecified repercussions, an indication that the Kenyan authorities had been compromised.
He said they were also warned against allowing anybody to enter the vessel, as those who would do so would be arrested.
And true to his words, drama unfolded immediately after the journalists reached the seashore and were interviewing the American tourist, who had also hired a lawyer with a view to instituting legal action against the seafarers’ employer.
The Chairman of the Shella Beach Management Unit Mr. Yunus Aboud and Mr. Mwangi (the ship owner’s agent) led a contingent of police officers to arrest the tourist.
Mwangi interrupted the interview that was being recorded on camera, saying the foreigner was lying and a verbal spat ensued before the tourist was led to a waiting police truck in which he was forcefully bundled after he refused to board voluntarily.
Later at the offices of the Malindi Beach Management Unit where the payments to those willing to take the offer were made, a representative of the International Transport Workers’ Organization (ITF) Ms. Betty Makena said the seamen did not have any contract with their employer and that it was difficult to determine their pay.
She said immediately after receiving press reports about the seafarers’ plight, she mobilized the Kenyan authorities to assist them, but on inspection, they found that there was no binding contract between them and their employer.
She confirmed that the employer had left with the seamen’s records but added that the records had been availed to her office in Mombasa and would be handed over to the seafarers on Monday.
By Emmanuel Masha