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How Kenya flouts procedures in current hiring of ship crews

 A luxury cruise ship. [iStockphoto]

For the last three years since 2019 more than 2,200 Kenyans have been recruited to work aboard different cruise and container ships.

These include the MSC Cruise ships, MSC Container vessels, Royal Caribbean cruise ships and Celebrity cruises.

Whereas Kenyans badly need the jobs, the recruitment to the said vessels and companies are in gross violations of the International Seafarers' Code. The recruitment exercise from the said period did not and it is not following the laid down international maritime labor standards and procedures on replacement and recruitment of Seafarers.

Ideally such processes require the following: advertisement at the shipping office in Mombasa and at the Seafarers' Organisations hiring halls in Mombasa; shortlisting; competitive recruitment; contracting, Marlins Test and pre-employment medical exams; and air tickets and Visa application requirements.

Before the development of ship contractors at the port of Mombasa recruitment, replacement of ship crew as well as day-workers for ship support services such as gangway watchmen, winchmen, gangwains, boatswains and cleaning gangs among others, were carried out at the East African National Seamen Union hiring halls and at the shipping masters' office.

There are several union hiring halls in 20 major seaports in the US involved in the replacement and recruitment of the nearly 650,000 Americans Seafarers across all 50 states operating in the shipyards and at the high seas and contributes $154 billion to the nation's economic growth annually.

Hiring procedures

Unions that operate exclusive hiring halls must notify workers how the referral system works maintain non-discriminatory standards and procedures in making job referrals from the hiring hall. You don't have to be a union member to use a hiring hall and a union may not discriminate in making referrals based on whether or not you are a union member.

It may, however, charge non-members a reasonable fee to use the hiring hall's services. We used to have union hiring halls along the East African seaports of Mtwara, Tanga, Dar Es Salaam and Mombasa under the then East African National Seamen Union. After Kenya's independence in 1960-1963, Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika needed young African trainees to take over from the British serving the East African Railways and Harbours.

A number of young Africans were trained in the British India Steam Navigation Lines, Clan Lines, Southern Line, Pacific International Line (PIL) and others until the East African National Shipping Lines was formed in 1966-1967 when some trainees were taken on board their ships for training. These sea cadets were also recruited at the East African National Seamen Union hiring halls and at the office of the shipping master at the seaport of Mombasa and Dar Es Salaam.

Demise of African National Shipping Lines as at 1977, Nigeria had 27 ships, Ghana 16 and Cote d'Ivoire 15 in a market which grew to 126 ships belonging to 40 African and foreign carriers; half of the tonnage belonged to African states. Of the 126 ships in use, there were 36 general cargo ships, 50 multipurpose and semi-container ships, three lighters-carriers, 21 container ships and 17 Ro-Ro vessels.

Root cause of poor fortunes of the African national carriers was: The politics of the belly; Takeover by unqualified hands appointed by the Government; Lack of technical knowledge;Mismanagement by Landlubbers; Foreign competition and weak adaption to technological changes; Improper and corrupt interference by government bureaucrats as well as fraudulent work ethics.

Social dumping

The issue of foreign workers taking jobs meant for locals in the shipping and logistics supply chains has become a menace despite the responsible bodies being notified and taking no action. Immigration department that had cleat guidelines to this effect have opted to take gratuities in exchange of work permits denying Kenyans the much needed Jobs, majority of these so called "expatriates" poses less skills and education than our local workforce.

All shipping lines should borrow the model of Mediterranean Shipping Company that despite being the line partnering with the national line KNSL they only have one foreigner representative in all branches additionally these foreigner workers are slowly killing our off dock business by awarding all contracts to foreign companies registered in Kenya.

The Merchant Shipping Act and the Immigration Act must be adhered to the letter to safeguard Kenyans just like our neighbours in Tanzania have done.

An urgent audit to all Mombasa-based foreign firms need to be conducted. Pertinent issues must be addressed like shipping lines to borrow the module of MSC being the Line that has partnered with the Government to revive our National Line (Kenya National Shipping Line).

They should only have one foreign representative to oversee whole of Kenya and East Africa.

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