Seafarers treated worse than criminals are finally allowed home

Eighteen crew have made it home after spending 21 months trapped on their abandoned ship. The MV Jinan (IMO 8322844) was left at the Port of Mombasa, Kenya in August 2019 by its Beirut owners Al Jinan Shipping Co. The general cargo ship is registered in Zanzibar, an autonomous region of Tanzania.

After lengthy court proceedings, the ship has been sold for scrap and the crew has been paid US$ 242,872 from the proceeds (representing the period from November 2019 to August 2020).

“I am immensely happy that these seafarers were finally paid and got back home safely,” said Betty Makena Mutugi, ITF Inspector for the area, who works for the Dockworkers’ Union Kenya. “It’s a victory for their human rights. But all that time these people were locked up in conditions as bad as a prison while the legal process ground slowly on. It is not unfair to say they have been treated worse than criminals.”

Happy to be on their way home at last — the seafarers at Moi International Airport, Mombasa ready to leave. ITF Inspector Betty Makena Mutugi (center) is seeing them off.

The seafarers did not have visas to enter Kenya and so were not permitted to leave the ship. They ran out of food and fresh water and had to rely on charity to survive.

It is worth emphasizing that the situation effectively left innocent people in prison-like conditions for almost two years. People convicted of serious crimes may face less punishment than this.

ITF affiliate, the Seafarers Union of Kenya, worked with the ITF Inspector in the Port of Mombasa to help get these Seafarers repatriated. The union and the Department of Shipping and Maritime found a maritime lawyer to file a case on their behalf. The court case started in September 2020 and concluded in February 2021. The court ordered the ship to be sold by auction and the crew paid from the proceedings. This finally happened in the last few weeks.

While this was going on, the union, together with the ITF inspector and the Chaplain of the Mission to Seafarers in Mombasa, lobbied other partners to support the crew with food, fresh water, and medical treatment.

Kenya has ratified the UN’s Maritime Labour Convention which puts the responsibility on the port state to repatriate seafarers from abandoned vessels in the event that the owner, insurer, and flag state cannot or do not arrange for the crew to go home. Unfortunately, where there is a question mark over who is responsible, legal proceedings can take months or years to sort things out. In the meantime, the crew of a ship is left to wonder if they will ever see home again,

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