'Slaving' seamen want State to give council teeth

Asian seafarers stranded at the Port of Mombasa. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

Seafarers are hoping that the William Ruto administration will come up with guidelines that will make the newly mooted Marine Wages Council become operational.

The previous government was slow in creating the council, and when it did, ended its term without coming up with the rules to launch the council into action.

According to Mwinyi Jahazi, Chairman of the Marine Wages Council, the new administration has to make the entity operational if the slavery experienced by seamen is to end.

In an interview, Jahazi said Mining, Blue Economy and Maritime Affairs Cabinet Secretary Salim Mvurya must prioritise operationalisation of the council.

"Let authorities consider fast-tracking the launching of the wages council to help boost the fortunes of Kenyan seafarers who have for long been neglected," Jahazi said.

"We expect Mr Mvurya to appoint a comprehensive task force to look into the sustainability of the whole maritime and blue economy sector and how it can benefit the Kenyan population," he said.

The Maritime Wages Council will ensure all seafarers are paid the recommended salary, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) minimum pay for an Able Seaman (AB) of $641 (Sh71,118) as opposed to the current $180 (Sh19,971) a month.

Jahazi observed that failure to launch the council defeats the objectives of the fourth pillar of international shipping - decent wages and working conditions aboard ships (MLC 2006).

Experts in the maritime industry are also eager to see how the new administration navigates around the blue economy, a sector that was prioritised by the former regime.

The blue economy presents a new frontier which engrosses shipping, fishing, renewable energy production, ports, shipyards, aquaculture and tourism.

On a broader aspect, the blue economy has a cumulative effect on the marine environment; the largest ecosystem on our planet.

The consequences of its use and exploitation have become increasingly extensive for decades, compounded by climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.

Kenya Association of Hotel keepers and Caterers (KAHC) Coast region Executive officer Sam Ikwaye said the blue economy is now a buzzword and soon it will be the only word related to the marine economy.

"The new government should continue from where the previous administration left. There exists the office of the Blue Economy domiciled at the Office of the President. There is need for continuity and adequate resources allocated to help this office deliver," said Mr Ikwaye.

He added that the global cruise ship industry has shown interest in recruiting Kenyan seafarers to work aboard its sea-going vessels.

"This is a very good move that needs to be reciprocated locally by having efficient training institutions that produce the much-needed manpower for local hospitality and the newly emerging international cruise line labour market," Ikwaye said.

He urged the government to engage more cruise liners so that they can employ more Kenyan crew staff.

"We are also looking at the possibility of the government reaching out to other government agencies to help market the Sh1billion modern cruise ship terminal at the Port of Mombasa so as to attract more cruise ships to start calling at the facility," he said.

Ikwaye stressed that it was prudent for the government to put up a modern cruise ship terminal at the port of Mombasa but more needs to be done to ensure Mombasa port is well marketed to the outside world as a prime cruise port.

On ports and shipyards development, shipping experts in Mombasa said the government should coordinate efforts to enable Kenya Shipyards Limited in Mombasa and Kisumu to be able to construct more vessels for the Kenyan and regional markets.

"There are a number of naval architects who have been jobless. Their expertise should be tapped if they are absorbed by say the Kenya Shipyard Limited to start ship and vessel constructions locally," said Steve Owaki, a seafarers' welfare activist.

Mr Owaki also called on the government to prioritise the training of Kenyan fishermen. This cadre has been left with little knowledge on modern fishing methods which evolving by the day due to technology.

He said the shipping industry has experienced a robust growth and many Kenyans are being engaged to work onboard sea going vessels with credit going to efforts by the former administration.

"We remain optimistic that President William Ruto's government will do more to ensure Kenya reaps from the blue economy by ensuring that there is proper legislation to allow the sector to thrive.

The construction of Shimoni Fishing Port in Kwale County and several other fishing ports along the Kenyan Coast including the Liwatoni Fisheries Complex in Mombasa must also form part of the government's priorities, emphasised Owaki.