Kenya is set to see an end to frequent dumping of its citizens in foreign lands after last week’s adoption of rules that make it compulsory for ship owners to buy insurance cover against abandonment of seafarers.
The new global maritime rules, which took effect on January 17, require all ship owners to buy policies covering abandonment of seafarers, their death or long-term disability.
Local industry players see two benefits, saying the rules will not only enhance the welfare of ship workers but also open new opportunities just weeks after the recent directive on cargo insurance.
“Such rules imply better social security for seafarers as they work aboard foreign ships. In turn, financially secure seafarers means safer ships,” said Nancy Karigithu, Shipping and Maritime Affairs principal secretary. Ms Karigithu said the rules will curb abandonment of Kenyan seafarers who, she noted, have in the past been left stranded in foreign lands by rogue ship owners or crew.
“We have had to rescue our seafarers together with international partners following abandonment in various parts of the world and this will come to an end,” she said.
The new rules require that the insurance provider of the ship must issue a certificate or other documentary evidence of the owner’s financial security. This certificate has to be carried on board the ship.
International Maritime Organisation (IMO) secretary-general Kitack Lim in a statement welcomed the new rules under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC 2006), saying that they will improve working conditions for seafarers.
“These amendments, which will provide better protection for seafarers and their families, are the fruit of successful collaboration between IMO and ILO to ensure better working conditions and better protection should things go wrong.
I am very pleased to see these amendments enter into force for the parties to MLC 2006,” Mr Lim said.
Kenya has about 5,000 seafarers who consist of shipmasters, deck and engineer officers, electrical and electro-technical officers, divers, fish workers, deck and engine room workers and off-shore gas or oil rig staff. Owing to lack of merchant fleet standard of training, certification and watch-keeping for seafarers (STCW) certificates, only 20 per cent of Kenyan seafarers are currently employed aboard coastal and foreign ocean-going vessels.
The 2014 amendments to the MLC 2006 rules are under the auspices of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and are based on guidelines developed by a joint IMO/ILO working group, the IMO explained in background information provided on the organisation’s website.
Mr Lim added: “Seafarers make global trade possible and it is vital that we all work together to ensure that their rights are protected. It has often been said that the MLC 2006 represents the fourth pillar when it comes to the most important maritime treaties as it complements the IMO treaties covering safety — the SOLAS treaty, pollution prevention — the MARPOL treaty, and training of seafarers—the STCW treaty.”
The amendments took nearly a decade to develop. The IMO explained that its legal committee maintains a standing agenda item to continually review the provision of financial security in case of abandonment of seafarers, and ship owners’ responsibilities in respect of contractual claims for personal injury to, or death of seafarers.
The development is also seen as a new opportunity for insurers. Beginning this year, Kenya began implementing the law that puts marine insurance in the hands of locals except in exceptional circumstances.
Insurance companies have been aggressively positioning themselves to take advantage of the law which is expected to boost their premiums by about Sh17 billion.