Kenya was the first country in Africa to declare the Port of Mombasa a crew change centre. The country has so far overseen crew changes of over 1800 seafarers. The country developed guidelines to allow ships to change and repatriate crew at the Port of Mombasa.
The crew change guidelines have enabled coordinated embarkation and disembarkation processes for seafarers during the pandemic period, safe crew change, and established safe COVID-19 transmission prevention measures to be observed by those interacting with the seafarers during crew change, Ms. Nancy Karigithu, the Principal Secretary in charge of the State Department of Shipping and Maritime Affairs told participants during this year’s World Maritime Day celebrated on 30th September this year themed ‘Seafarers at the Core of Shipping’s Future.’
Globally, there are over 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally and the total cargo capacity of the world merchant shipping fleet is about 1.75 billion deadweight tonnes (DWT).
“The people responsible for maintaining, running, and operating the world’s fleet of ships and for the safe and smooth delivery of cargo from and to various ports worldwide are Seafarers. Seafarers ensure that essential items and commodities on which our lives depend on arrive safely at our homes, hospitals, and industries,” Karigithu said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed unusual demands on seafarers worldwide, with some men and women being stranded on ships for months, way beyond their original contracts, unable to get repatriation back home to their families because of national travel restrictions on a scale never imagined in the modern world.
Others, Karigithu said, could not join ships and earn a living, while yet other seafarers have faced very difficult working conditions including uncertainties about port access, re-supply, crew change, and repatriation conditions, all of which have led to fatigue because of prolonged stay on-board ships. These factors affect the mental health of seafarers.
“Yet still, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the professionalism, sacrifice, and resilience nature of the 1.6 million seafarers working on the world’s fleet of ships, who continue to transport over 80% of the world’s trade in goods including vital medical supplies, food and other basic goods that are critical for the COVID-19 response and recovery,” Karigithu said.
Added she; “Shipping and global maritime trade continue to thrive, uninterrupted, because seafarers remain on the frontline, braving the seas and delivering vital goods to nations worldwide. Seafarers are the unsung and unfeted Heroes of the Pandemic.”
Meanwhile, Kenya has taken bold steps to secure the welfare of seafarers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly because of the country’s commitments under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), 2006 as amended. Crew change is taking place at the Port of Mombasa for seafarers who have completed their employment contracts under the seafarer employment agreement and seafarers who are no longer medically fit to work onboard ship.
Other crew change includes seafarers wishing to sign off on compassionate grounds, and seafarers whose sign off does not affect the safe manning of the ship
Implementing crew change protocols by the Government of Kenya has availed other opportunities such as marketing Mombasa Port as a crew change centre to the global shipping industry which has brought with it various opportunities for local businesses such as shipping agents, hotels, airlines, and local transport providers.
it has also provided Employment of Kenyan seafarers who have sought to replace foreign crew signing off in Kenya and strengthened inter-agency cooperation between government agencies involved in crew change such as the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA), Port Health, State Department of Immigration Services, and the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) as they work together closely and daily, to facilitate crew change requests.
The government has prioritized seafarers in receiving COVID-19 vaccines since they are essential workers. The Government is also exploring ways of ensuring their access to medical services when the industry is under sharp focus by the health authorities.
“One measure under consideration is to establish a medical clinic for seafarers at the Bandari Maritime Academy (BMA) to cater for the unique needs of seafarers,” Karigithu said, adding that engagements are currently ongoing with the Ministry of Health on the mode of implementation.
Regarding the welfare of seafarers, the Government is committed to resolving the current disparity in wages of Kenyan seafarers and those from other countries who have an established wage standard to ensure that Kenyan seafarers receive fair pay for equal work onboard ships.
“We are keenly following up on the development of a Wage Standard for Kenyan seafarers to ensure that Kenyan seafarers are competitively remunerated, and also encourage new entrants to the seafaring profession,” Karigithu said, adding that the Constitution of the Wage Council is due to be Gazetted any day by the State Department of Labour under the Labour Institutions Act, 2007 on Sectoral Wage Councils.
“This will enable Kenya to meet its obligations under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006 of ‘minimum working and living standards for all seafarers on ships, and will further set fair competition and a level-playing field for quality owners of ships flying the flags of countries that have ratified the Convention,” Karigithu said.
The Convention is unique because it aims to achieve decent work for seafarers and to secure economic interests through fair competition for quality ship owners.
Kenya ratified the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), 2006 in 2014 and the review of the Merchant Shipping (Maritime Labour) Regulations is currently ongoing to ensure that Kenya complies with the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), 2006. The review is a collaborative effort between the State Department of Shipping and Maritime, KMA, and the World Maritime University.
The Government has championed the ratification of key maritime conventions that will improve the safety and welfare of seafarers; including the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006.
Conventions proposed for ratification include the International Labour Organization (ILO) Seafarers Identity Document Convention No. 185, amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, The ILO Convention 188 for protection of Fisher’s rights, the Cape Town Agreement, 2012, which regulate Safety of Fishing Vessels and the IMO Standards of Training, Certification, and Watch-keeping for Fishers (STCW-F).