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Abandoned sailors to go home after one year

The abandoned ship, Ra-Horakhty is moored at Liwatoni Fisheries Jetty in Mombasa County. [Robert Menza, Standard]

In June last year, Kenyan-flagged vessel Ra-Horakhty sailed into the Liwatoni Fisheries Jetty, never to leave.

Sixteen crew members manning the ship were left abandoned, surviving on the morsels thrown their way by well-wishers, barely able to scrape enough to push the long, difficult days.

The crew was from Kenya, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia and Tanzania. After almost one year of fighting the owner of the vessel in Kenyan courts, who they accused of abandoning them, the crew has emerged victorious.

This week, an admiralty court sitting in Mombasa ordered that the vessel be auctioned and the crew compensated.

Mr Steve Okello, an admiralty and maritime lawyer, represented the sailors. Mr Talib Mohamed, a marine surveyor and vessel valuer, has already started to carry out inspection of the vessel to ascertain its sale price.

“The crew went to court to seek orders for sale of the vessel and arrest of its owner, they succeeded,” said Mr Mohamed.

He will conduct a thorough inspection that will include checking the physical condition of the ship - the bridge, engine and cargo holds - while examining original certificates.

Speaking to Shipping and Logistics in December last year, Seo Hyundo, the master of the vessel, narrated the difficult conditions the sailors on board were facing.

“My wife and children who live in Pusan, Korea, have been calling and telling me to go home for Christmas. I cannot abandon my crew since I am the master here,” he said.

The vessel owner stopped paying salaries to the sailors in March 2021.

Relied on well-wishers

Mr Hyundo, who took charge of the ship on September 19, 2020 said after taking command they immediately went out to fish in Kenyan territorial waters for tuna before visiting Mahe Island in Seychelles for refueling in November.

The ship then left for Malindi, before continuing to Mombasa where the crew was abandoned.

“Since being abandoned at Liwatoni jetty, we have had to rely on well-wishers for food  and other provisions,” he said.

Mr Hyundo said the crew was grateful to the Catholic church-owned Stella Maris, a maritime charity organisation, which has been giving them food.

“If it were not for Stella Maris, maybe we would have starved to death.”

Stella Maris has been extending support to the seafarers since they were informed of the crew’s plight by the International Transport Workers Federation.

According to the International Labour Organisation, 66 ships were abandoned last year.

Ms Margaret Masibo, a Stella Maris Mombasa Port official, said the act of abandoning ships and crew has been common.

Ra-Horakhty adds another statistic to the countless seafarers abandoned at sea when shipowners walk away from their loss-making vessels.

De-registered

Earlier, a Zanzibar-flagged cargo ship, Mv Jihan, that has since been de-registered was abandoned with its crew for close to two years at the Port of Mombasa.

The crew of 18, majority from Syria, were abandoned at the port in October 2019.

Seven later travelled back home, leaving 11 stuck and relying on the Mission to Seafarers in Mombasa, the business community and the Kenya Maritime Authority for food and other provisions.

With Covid-19 pandemic at its peak, the 11 spent time aboard the ship that was anchored near Port Reitz until an admiralty court ruled that the vessel be sold off and proceeds used to pay the sailors.

On the Ra-Horakhty, Ms Masibo said the plight of crew was brought to the attention of Stella Marris by ITF inspector Ms Betty Makena.

“We stepped in to provide emergency relief, supplying a week’s worth of groceries; oil, meat and rice. The seafarers were also in need of fresh water and diesel to run the ship’s generator,” Ms Masibo said.

“We have been visiting the vessel to assess the situation and see how best we can help. We invited the local Mission to Seafarers team to assist.”

Stella Maris established that the seafarers had all signed one-year contracts, longer than Maritime Labour Convention limits.

Whenever seafarers are abandoned by broke ship owners, the ITF, Stella Marris and seafarers’ organisations are often the first responders, advocating for the victims and providing them with supplies.