Nine Syrian sailors held for two years now freed

MV Jihan anchored at the Port of Mombasa. [Courtesy]

Nine Syrian seafarers confined aboard a general cargo vessel since 2019 have been flown home.

Another nine, including the master of the vessel Abdulah Aldech, travelled back home after assistance by family on diverse dates in 2020.

The nine left through Moi International Airport, Mombasa on Friday aboard an Ethiopian Airline flight en route Lebanon via Addis Ababa and then connect to their homeland.

International Transport Workers Federation, Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA), Mission to Seafarers and local seafaring community facilitated the repatriation.

KMA boss Robert Njue said the MV Jihan crew arrived at the Port of Mombasa on October 1, 2019 from Salalah in Oman to deliver steel.

“The ship’s owner requested to anchor while awaiting to load cargo in preparation for another voyage. The request was granted, but the cargo was not forthcoming and the ship was anchored longer than anticipated. The seafarers reported to the authority in early 2020 that they had not received their five-month wages and that they lacked provisions aboard the ship,” Mr Njue said.

Mombasa port ITF ship inspector Betty Makena said the case was one of the many involving abandonment of seafarers by shipowners in foreign countries.

She said KMA led in conducting Port State Control inspection to assess the condition of the vessel and its crew. The PSC report confirmed that the vessel was out of provisions and that the original 18 seafarers on board relied on provisions from the local Mission to Seafarers Mombasa centre.

The seafarers claimed unpaid wages. On inquiry, the local agent (Seaforth Shipping Kenya) confirmed that they were no longer able to service the vessel due to outstanding bills dating back to October 2019.

Njue said KMA wrote to Zanzibar Maritime Authority, the vessel’s Flag State, informing them of the dire and deteriorating condition of those on board the ship.

The late response was eventually received on August 19, 2020, informing KMA of termination of registration of MV Jinan from the Zanzibar registry. This meant the ship could not leave the port without a registration or flag state.

KMA reported the abandonment to the International Maritime Organisation and International Labour Organisation on November 17, 2020.

KMA, Njue added, convened an inter-agency meeting including social partners to seek ways of assisting the seafarers in terms of their welfare and payment of outstanding wages. The meeting was attended by the Apostolic of the Seas, Mission to Seafarers, ITF and the Port Welfare Committee.

In pursuit of their outstanding wages of $303,590 (about Sh33 million), the seafarers represented by Okello Kinyanjui and Company Advocates filed a case at the Mombasa High Court, Admiralty Division on September 15, 2020.

On November 17, 2020, the court ordered the vessel appraised and sold by the Admiralty Marshal.

The director-general said KMA was following up with the Admiralty court proceedings and upraising the seafarers through the ship’s Captain Mohamad Abdeh on the progress.

Together with the social partners and other well-wishers, KMA continued to facilitate food supplies and other provisions including water and diesel to power the ship.

The seafarers advocates floated bids for sale of the ship following valuation and appraisal of the ship.

The court accepted the bid of Nourdin Mohammed, with a caveat that the $581,000 (Sh63 million) be deposited by April 23, 2021 with the Admiralty Marshal, who will then be distributed to the various claims.

The money was deposited with the advocates and the seafarers paid on May 21, 2021, before flying home.

Prior to disembarking from the vessel that lay in anchor along the Mwache Creek within the Kilindini harbour, the nine tested negative for Covid-19

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