Why Kenyans miss out on onboard ship jobs

Security officers keep guard next to MV Nautica after it docked at the port of Mombasa. [Gideon Maundu, Standard]

Hundreds of Kenyans are missing out on onboard jobs on ships due to delays in the processing and issuance of the Seafarers Identification Document (SID).

The SID, also known as a Seaman's Book or Seaman's Card, is a document carried by all professional seafarers, including cruise ship members or yacht crew, to keep a record of their time at sea.

In Kenya, the International Labour Organization ILO-regulated SIDA is issued to local seafarers by the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) to enable them to transit and access shore leave without a visa.

On Wednesday, sources interviewed said that KMA had failed to address the issue of the 'missing SID' for a long time.

"KMA has been informed of the requirement by nations like Brazil on the need for seafarers from Kenya to have SID. We have not heard any convincing reasons as to why there is delay in issuance of the document," Roman Juma, a Kenyan shipping expert based in the Gulf region said.

Juma said that KMA’s failure to fast-track the issuance of the vital document had denied hundreds of Kenyan seafarers on-board jobs in ships sailing the Brazilian and American waters.

Andrew Mwangura, a maritime analyst, regretted that Kenyans were unable to get jobs aboard cruise ships operating in Mexico, Brazil, Florida (USA), and the Caribbean because they lack the document.

He said that the world's largest family-owned cruise ship company, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) Cruises has deployed five ships in its fleet to cruise in Brazilian waters and nearby locations.

"The vessels have a combined crew capacity of close to 10,000. However, the preference is being given to seafarers from nations which have ratified ILO Convention 185," Mwangura said.

He said the government should not ignore job opportunities in the maritime sector, noting that currently, about 3,000 Kenya Seafarers were working aboard cruise ships worldwide.

Brazil requires seafarers to hold SID under ILO Convention 185. For some nationalities on board without the SID, a visa waiver is required.

“Seafarers from countries where SID is not available and are headed to Brazil must hold a VIVIS (Visitor Visas) applied in the home country before embarkation,” said Mwangura.

In an interview, KMA Manager John Omingo said they had completed the development of a legal framework for the issuance of SID.

"We have ratified the International Labour Organisations (ILO) Seafarers Identity Document Convention (C185) which aligns with our efforts with international standards," said Omingo.

He said the regulatory framework will govern the issuance of SIDs, ensuring a smooth and standardised process for Kenyan seafarers.

"We have concluded the modalities of printing blank cards and are currently in the process of procuring a state-of-the-art system and hardware for printing the variable data," he said.

Omingo said the initiative is being spearheaded by a dedicated multi-agency team to ensure the highest quality and security of SID cards.

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