The maritime industry regulator has directed that only licensed recruitment and placement agents will be allowed to hire seafarers in the country.
Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) said it has licensed 5 such agents and cautioned those seeking to work on board ships to avoid fake firms as they risk being abandoned, tortured or even thrown over board at sea.
KMA Director General George Okong’o warned stern action against unlicensed and unregistered recruitment agents saying they posed a security threat to the country.
He spoke at the KMA offices in Mombasa when he received 13 fishermen who were secretly recruited by a Somali ship owner early this year and tortured in the foreign land leading to Government intervention through KMA and the Kenyan embassy in Mogadishu to return them home.
Okong’o said the fishermen were recruited by Seaport Operations Limited to work in Somalia on board FV Marwan-1 but the recruitment agent was unlicensed.
He advised the seafarers to seek guidance of the authority before they sail out.
Seafarers Union of Kenya (SUK) Chairperson Daud Hajj also warned that it was risky for seafarers to board ships without reporting to the union and KMA saying lack of information on the crew would make it difficult to rescue them in case of a problem.
“We are reminding you to always inform us of your employment arrangement to enable us keep a record of your contractual agreement and trace you,” Hajj advised.
The rescued fishermen are Mr Mitau Makau, Mr Omar Gakurya, Mr Abubakar Jembe, Mr Hassan Ndeka, Mr Jackson Toya, Mr Victor Wazome, Mr Abdalla Ali, Mr Paul Mwasafa, Mr Hamisi Ibrahim, Mr Hamisi Masai, Mr Salim Juma, Mr Raymond Mwasarigha and Mr Modi Abdalla.
Mr Gakurya said he was confronted, slapped and threatened with a gun by his employer on board the ship.
“At one time the employer ordered that all the food that had been prepared for us be thrown away as he brandished a gun. We worked under deplorable conditions on board the ship,” Makau said, urging KMA to assist them recover their dues from the employer.
Mr Okong’o pledged action against the recruitment agent and the ship owners including recovery of the seafarers’ unpaid dues. But he warned that KMA will in future not assist those who seek employment through dubious recruitment agents.
The 13 fishermen were to work for two years starting from April this year but they sent home a distress call on July 10 as they worked under deplorable conditions.
The recruitment agent allegedly failed to deposit a crew list and contract agreement to KMA as required.