Italian owned cruise liner hires more Kenyan seafarers

Shipping PS Nancy Karigithu (second right) with MSC Cruises recruits at the Bandari Maritime Academy, Mombasa. [Robert Menza, Standard]

As the global cruise industry races toward filling up the crew numbers after the disruptive two-year Covid-19 pandemic that also shattered global economies, several cruise lines have now started hiring new staff.

This is as the cruise industry’s service capacity grows.

Kenya has not been left behind as an emerging hub for crew staff with global cruise giants, MSC Cruises and Royal Caribbean Cruises pitching camp in the country to hire thousands of new staff.

In the latest such absorption, MSC Cruises which signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Transport and Infrastructure Ministry at State House Nairobi on August 16, 2018, has hired another 74 Kenyan seafarers to work aboard its flotilla of cruise ships as deck and engine room staff.

Already, MSC Cruises and MSC Cargo have absorbed up to 1,200 Kenyan seafarers since 2018.

Speaking while addressing the successful crew at the Bandari Maritime Academy, Shipping and Maritime Affairs Principal Secretary and Special Envoy for Blue Economy, Dr Nancy Karigithu said Kenya is on course to achieving its earlier dream of having more of its labour personnel in the seafaring labour market.

“We are seeing the continued fruits of our partnership with MSC. MSC is our saviour and we do not take this for granted,” she said.

Six women sailors cut a stringent hiring exercise. They are Sophie Ochuodo and Virginia Muhindi while Scovia Achila, Priscah Bahati and Villa Auma Otieno have been hired as ordinary sailors.

Dr Karigithu noted that the journey to transform Kenya’s seafaring sector has been long, involving lots of meetings with potential employers.

“Our government has led from the front and remained steadfast in ensuring that it fully exploits benefits accruing from the blue economy tourism, which forms part of the cruise being one of them,’’ she said.

She welcomed the partnership with MSC, which, apart from employing Kenyans to work aboard its cruise ships has also allowed hundreds of others to work on its fleet of cargo ships.

“This is a valued partnership between Kenya and the private sector. We look forward to more partnerships as we seek to fully make Kenya a maritime State,” noted the PS.

Renowned mentors for seafarers in the port city of Mombasa, Steve Owaki and Joseph Khaemba lauded MSC for showing confidence in hiring Kenyan crew to work aboard its fleets.

“We salute efforts by both the government of Kenya and MSC for this healthy cooperation and appeal to the incoming government to show commitment and support to the full revival of the seafaring sector,” Owaki said.

Seaborne trade

Mr Owaki noted that MSC is an active participant in international seaborne trade which accounts for a significant percentage of Kenya’s total trade.

“They have a fully-fledged manning office and have even employed Kenyan staff who continue to exhibit professionalism at their work,” Owaki noted.

International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) Ship Inspector based at Mombasa port, Ms Betty Makena said the maritime industry is complex, full of worker exploitation and social dumping.

“We are happy with the way MSC has been conducting its affairs in relation to hiring Kenyan seafarers. We take note that other international shipping companies have also followed suit,” she said.

“There are the likes of Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises which have also started hiring Kenyan crew drawn from the local hospitality industry.”

The ongoing recruitment of Kenyan seafarers comes at a time when there is demand for more crew staff, a recent report in the Cruise Industry News indicates.

Capacity is up from August, growing to about 595,000 in service berths with 388 ships in service compared to 389 in August. A handful of expedition ships are spending September out of service, transitioning between Polar seasons and charter operators. Ships starting revenue service include the new Norwegian Prima, Volendam, Sapphire Princess and Viking Polaris, plus the Venus Australis.

Following her Iceland christening in late August with Katy Perry, the Norwegian Prima sails in Northern Europe first before crossing to North America, arriving in New York ahead of her debuts in Galveston, Miami and then Port Canaveral.

For Holland America Line, the Volendam resumes service on September 24, marking the final ship back in service for the Carnival Corporation brand when she sails from Trieste. The 1,432 guest ship has spent the previous few months housing Ukrainian refugees in the Netherlands.

Compared to a year ago, the industry has seen a significant uptake in the capacity as last September, just over 200 ships were projected to sail, representing approximately 325,000 berths.

MSC Cruises will be launching its latest vessel, MSC Seascape with a 17-day maiden voyage from Rome to New York City. It will set sail from Civitavecchia (Rome) on an enchanting transatlantic cruise in November.

The 17-night Grand Voyage of discovery will call at Barcelona, Valencia and Cadiz before heading out into the Atlantic, with stops at Funchal and Bermuda (King’s Wharf) en route to New York.