The Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) has disputed claims that five stranded seafarers who have been in Asia for the last two years were detained at the port of Jakarta.
The agency says the seamen, including a sixth man from Burundi, had not been arrested by Indonesian authorities but were seeking safety after their vessel broke down at sea.
“The seamen did not enter Indonesia illegally and are not detained. They sought refuge at the Port of Jakarta after their ship MV Queen Bihanga, which was sailing from Malaysia, developed mechanical problems,” said KMA acting director general Cosmas Cherop Wednesday.
Initial media reports indicated that the seamen had been arrested after the Zanzibar-bound general cargo ship was found to have been unseaworthy.
Mr Cherop said the KMA is monitoring the situation and has made necessary interventions with Indonesian authorities, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Transport and other international stakeholders.
“The seamen left the ship on Monday this week and we have also been working closely with our social partners including ITF (International Transport Workers Federation) as required by the Maritime Labour Convention to facilitate their repatriation back to Kenya and ensure that their wage claims from the ship-owner are paid,” he added.
The vessel has since May this year been anchored at Jakarta port, according to Andrew Mwangura, Mombasa Port CSOs Platform chairman.
“A Burundian and five Kenyan crew members of the abandoned Zanzibar flagged general cargo ship are running out of fresh water, food, fuel and ship stores and have not been paid their salaries for 19 months,” he said in an email message.
Although KMA has appealed to seafarers to deposit copies of employment with the regulator as per the Merchant Shipping Act 2009, many of them have failed to do so, exposing themselves to exploitation.
“If all concerned parties comply with this requirement, deficient seafarers’ employment contracts can be detected and the seafarers advised accordingly,” Mr Cherop said.
The law also prohibits people from recruiting and placing them on employment aboard vessels without a permit from KMA, but rogue agents have over the years recruited workers who are grossly underpaid.
Although the law requires seamen of lowest rank to earn over $600 (Sh60,000) per month, most Kenyan seafarers are paid as little as $200 (Sh20,000) per month compared to their counterparts from other countries who earn up to $1,000 (Sh100,000) per month.
Last month, Transport and Infrastructure Principal Secretary - Prof Paul Maringa - said the ministry is working to establish minimum wages for seafarers with the aim of ensuring that they are well remunerated.