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The Kenyan youth riding ocean waves to earn a decent living

Getrude Wakesho. She works aboard MSC Seashore as an assistant waitress. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

While looking for jobs on land, others have opted to venture into the deep sea to build their career as they travel around the world.

They are among hundreds of Kenyan youth who have made it to work in various departments aboard Ocean-going cruise liners for weeks and months in the deep waters.

With the deadly Covid-19 pandemic easing and global economies opening up, international cruise lines are making recoveries and hiring back staff they had laid off.

It is a venture that remains a dream come true for young people working aboard luxurious cruise liners.

In 2018, when Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), a leading shipping liner, inked a deal with the government to revive Kenya National Shipping Line (KNSL), opportunities for young Kenyans to work aboard ships were created. 

MSC offered then to recruit up to 2,500 Kenyan youth on an annual basis to work on its flotilla of vessels.

Getrude Wakesho, 24, a resident of Mombasa County, today works aboard MSC Seashore as an assistant waitress after her promotion from being a buffet attendant.

“I did my catering studies at a local college right here in Mombasa and struggled to find a job. I did practical training in a number of star-rated hotels for work experience. This prepared me for my new job,’’ she said in an interview.

Now on a two-month break from her crew job, Ms Wakesho said there are trying moments, particularly when crossing from one continent to the other.

“An example was when in my first contract and after cruising in and around European waters, our vessel set sail to cross the Atlantic ocean for a thrilling and wave breaking 12 days,” she narrated.

“Here people particularly the crew have to be in top shape. Periodic emergency drills which we do prepare us for any crises at sea.’’ Wakesho has weathered storms and days away from home to serve with diligence at her work.

“During and after recruitment, we were taken through a number of mentor-ship sessions; mandatory training for seafarers at the Bandari Maritime Academy where we did the Standard of Training Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) which is a mandatory 10-day programme on safety,’’ she said.   

In her seafaring voyage, Wakesho has been to Italy, Spain and France. She also did the Trans Atlantic crossing to the US docking at Florida in Miami.

She is full of praise for Shipping and Maritime Principal Secretary Nancy Karigithu and Women in Maritime in East and Southern Africa (Womesa) Kenya chapter mentor, Betty Makena for having guided her and encouraging her in her journey as a young sailor.

‘’We were assisted when things were hard. Dr Karigithu used her office to ensure that we got all the necessary help while processing our travel documents,’’ Wakesho, who is waiting for a  notification to return back to sea, said.

Msc Belisima in the high seas. The vessel is owned by THE Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC). [File Standard]

 

Another Kenyan youth sailing the world waters is George James Tawa, a resident of Rabai in Kilifi County.

With over a decade of experience in culinary arts skills, Mr Tawa found it easy to get employed by MSC in 2019.

Now in his third contract, Tawa said he got fulfilment when he was put to work with various nationalities from around the world.

“I am learning from some of the best chefs in the world. However, during my first contract, I had to cut short my stay overseas when my father who had been ailing died. I got all the necessary support and was allowed permission to travel home and bury my father,’’ he said.

Since Tawa works on a bigger cruise ship which carries up to 5,000 passengers, working in the kitchen proves to be quite a challenge.

“There is lots of work. We work in shifts and break for two hours intervals when preparing meals for all those on board,’’ Tawa who is now Head of a department after being recruited as the first cook says.

He adds that the promotion has inspired him to rise up the ladder and become a cruise ship executive chef.

‘’The job of working aboard a cruise ship comes with lots of hopes and dreams. Making lots of money from salaries and seeing the world; not having to pay for food or rent - all these are provided for the crew - that makes it ideal and a most sought after job,’’ he said.

During the pandemic, the cruise ship industry went through one of the biggest crises in history.

Tawa said it was a very low moment for them as they spent several days and even weeks aboard ships.

“We however got a reprieve after our employer and government made arrangements to airlift us back home during the pandemic,’’ he said.

A recent survey conducted between March and April by maritime employment agency Faststream showed that 39 per cent of seafarers working in the cruise industry lost their jobs between 2020 and 2022.

Those who were spared the agony of layoffs were in the deck and engine departments. Some 53 per cent of seagoing crew members lost their jobs in the hotel department.

Players in the maritime and shipping industry in Kenya agree that the local cruise industry, which is still in its infancy, rewards handsomely.

Cruise lines, they said, will need to ensure that the crew has the right working environment, job security and benefits that will entice them to stay on. 

They argue that while Kenya has put in place sufficient infrastructure where cruise ships can come and dock - like the Sh1 billion Mombasa Port cruise terminal - there appears little is being done to market it as a preferred port of call for cruise liners.

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