The maritime industry regulator has directed that only licensed recruitment and placement agents will be allowed to hire seafarers in the country.
The Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) said it has licensed five such agents and cautioned those seeking to work on board ships to avoid fake firms as they risked being abandoned, tortured or even thrown overboard at sea.
The KMA Director General (DG), George Okong’o warned of stern action against unlicensed and unregistered recruitment agents saying they posed a security risk to the country.
He spoke at the KMA offices in Mombasa when he received 13 fishermen who were secretly recruited by a Somali ship owner early this year and tortured in the foreign land. Their plight led to government intervention through KMA and the Kenyan Embassy in Mogadishu leading to their safe return home.
Okong’o said the fishermen were recruited by Seaport Operations Limited to work in Somalia on board FV Marwan 1 but the recruitment was not licensed and advised the seafarers to seek the guidance of the authority before they sail out.
The Seafarers Union of Kenya (SUK) Chairman, Daud Hajj also warned that it was risky for seafarers to board ships without reporting to the union and KMA, saying lack of information on the crew would make it difficult to rescue them in cases of a problem.
“We are reminding you to always inform us of your employment arrangement to enable us keep a record of your contractual agreement and trace you,” Hajj advised.
The rescued fishermen were identified as Mitau Makau, Omar Gakurya, Abubakar Jembe, Hassan Ndeka, Jackson Toya, Victor Wazome, Abdalla Ali, Paul Mwasafa, Hamisi Ibrahim, Hamisi Masai, Salim Juma, Raymond Mwasarigha and Modi Abdalla.
Gakurya said he was confronted, slapped and threatened with a gun by his employer on board the ship.
Makau who sent home the distress message said they at times they went without food and engaged in argument with the employer who was yet to pay their dues.
The KMA DG pledged action against the recruitment agent and the ship owners including recovery of the seafarers’ unpaid dues.
He listed that licensed seafarers’ recruitment agents as Mombasa Ocean Agency, Alpha Logistics Limited, Diverse Shipping Limited, East Africa Deepsea Fishing Limited and MSC Ship Management Limited.
The KMA chief noted that another five recruitment firms have made applications but they have undergo vetting by government agencies to prevent those who may be recruitment to participate in criminal activities.
By Hussein Abdullahi