As many as 10 seafarers of a cargo ship have been living in hell for the last 18 months as the unscrupulous shipowners left them stranded in Kenya without any pay and food. MV Jinan crew have been left to fend for themselves as the shipowner abandoned them.
The ship carrying steel has been stranded near Mombasa Kenya for the last 18 months. Both the ship and the crew haven’t moved from their position in this while.
The Syrian crew of the ship haven’t got permission to land in Kenya as they don’t have a visa. The owner of the ship had abandoned them back in October 2019. The crew had to spend the difficult pandemic times with no wages and food and with very little contact with the world.
Many such cargo ships like the Jinan have been abandoned at sea by their owners in the last 2 decades. Over the years, the legal process of dealing with such matters has improved but the situation is still the same. As shown by the Ever Given incident, the crew, especially the captain had to face the burn of these incidents as they remain imprisoned on the ship.
The abandonment issues have reached a new high in the pandemic. When the first recording of abandonment had started back in 2004, the number was 20-30 per year but now it has reached 76 a year in 2020. Till May 2021, there have been 26 abandonment cases.
The human cost of this abandonment is far too much as shown by Rev. Moses Muli from Christian welfare society which works with Mission to Seafarers in Mombasa.
In these 18 months, the Jinan crew had only one human contact, that of the Reverend who says that the situation is worse than jail. As of now, Jinan has been sold for scrap and before it heads the scrap yard its crew will get $309290 as a collective back pay.
When the ship reached Mombasa back in September 2019, the crew had been ordered to stay put and wait for subsequent orders which never came their way.
In major places, the port authorities have set up welfare offices to help report such abandonment issues to the ITF and the IMO. However, Mombasa didn’t have one, and the Mission to Seafarers office was the only point of contact.
Rev Muli underlined the gravity of the situation when he said that they had to support the crew since it unexpectedly turned into a long term issue.
While most cases have gotten resolved in a couple of months, the Jinan issue dragged on. Many of the 17 strong crew had given up and their families had to pull up resources to bear the cost of flying them back home.
Many had left but these 10 crew members remained. Muli had been the only human support to them who talks to them on phone and visits them once a week, travelling 1km from the shore to the ship to give them food and other essential supplies.
He had supplied them basic things potatoes, wheat, rice, meat, generator fuel, cooking gas and first aid supplies. Usually, the captain would send a list of necessities and he would supply them.
During the holy month of Ramadan when Muslim people break their fast with an elaborate meal at dusk, the crew doesn’t get any such luxury. But they will receive fruit from Muli.
The Mission To Seafarers has spent 1.3 million Kenyan shillings which are 12000$ for the upkeep of the crew so far. At times, the Mombasa branch ran out of funds to support them and the headquarter had to intervene to send support.
The pandemic had complicated matters further with Muli’s visit stopped at the gangway. The crew can’t speak English and there’s a language barrier between them. However, they can understand English and say a few words.
They mainly communicate through the captain who can speak English. Muli has to inform him regularly about the legal matter and provide moral support.
The dull and idle life has taken a toll on them as they have nothing to do except wait inside the ship. The situation had been so dense that the captain even contemplated blowing off the ship as he thought that his life was wasted.
At present, the IMO has 198 such abandonment cases in their database with some going back to 2005. Many of these incidents include severe abuse like abandonment without food, water and fuel, seizing passports, shippers changing national flags etc.
While some have gone home but didn’t receive pay, others remained on ship hoping for a miracle. The abandonment issues had come to international attention when 2015 abandoned ammonium nitrate carrying cargo ship exploded in Beirut port, shaking the whole city and injuring many.
Another dreadful case had been the case of MV Aman whose captain, Mohammad Aisha had to live in the ship for 4 years stranded off the Suez Coast in Egypt. The ship had been abandoned after safety failures and he had been held legally responsible for the vessel. The captain has been let off on April 22, after the ship had been sold.
Such abandonment cases have been quite rampant but rarely they make it to the headlines. Aman had been one such case, just like the newly brewing issue of the Ever Given crew.
The 2006 Maritime Labour Convention had been amended recently in 2017 to make the shipping companies liable for abandonment and insure the ship for that purpose.
This has made it possible to file abandonment lawsuits and hence the increase in abandonment cases. The pandemic has accelerated the abandonment issues with most ships being abandoned due to closed borders. Out of the 76 cases of 2020, 17 are of this nature.
Tight business margins have made owners go into debt and offload liabilities, suggests David Hammond, founder of Human Rights at Sea.
Companies have been looking after their workforce at warehouses and retail shops but not at those who transport their products. Seafarers welfare has emerged as a black hole of corporate responsibility.