Death At Sea Condemned

Union says trainee a victim of the pernicious Flag of Convenience system SATAWU Statement on the death of Akhona Geveza at sea

South African Transport Union leaders have expressed horror at the death at sea of Akhona Geveza, a young trainee seafarer, after she made an allegation of rape by a senior officer.

Akhona was part of a group of over 130 young people (including 100 women) who have been participating in a maritime training programme supported by Transnet Port Authority and the South African Maritime Safety Agency.

Satawu extends its heartfelt condolences to Akhona Geveza's family, who have been devastated by the loss of their only child and only breadwinner. Our Eastern Cape Provincial leadership will be doing everything they can to support the Geveza family.

The death of Akhona has surfaced many other cases of alleged sexual abuse of these young people - both men and women. The episode makes Satawu ashamed to be a part of the transport industry.

The training programme is one that Satawu has actively supported, both in TNPA and in SAMSA. One challenge has been to find ships on which to place the young cadets for practical training. To learn now that those who have been placed are being subjected to unspeakable abuse is tragic. The ship "Kariba" on which Akhona was doing her training was no fly-by night rust-bucket. It is operated by Safmarine, a subsidiary of one of the world's largest shipping companies, A.P. Moller - Maersk AS, with its head office in Copenhagen. The ship was registered in the United Kingdom.

Akhona and other cadets who have reported similar abuse are victims of the pernicious Flag of Convenience system in shipping where officers and ship owners literally get away with murder by hiding behind the complications over lines of legal responsibility and authority that the FOC system gives rise to. In the case of Akhona's death there now six different authorities and institutions involved in the investigation :- the Croatian police, the South African Police in the Eastern Cape where Akhona is from, the SA Maritime Safety Authority, the UK Maritime Accident and Investigation Branch, Transnet, and Safmarine itself. Satawu wonders whether a successful investigation leading to appropriate prosecutions is possible in such circumstances.

Akhona's death should signal to our government the importance of developing our own ship's register, where South African seafarers can work on ships owned and registered in South Africa, and therefore be protected by South African laws, including labour laws. Satawu will continue to be involved in the campaign against Flags of Convenience, lead by the International Transport Workers' Federation (the ITF). This terrible incident should also finally persuade government to accept the labour related amendments to the Merchant Shipping Act which Satawu has been proposing at Nedlac and which government has been resisting.

Akhona's death should also signal to our government that it must urgently ratify the ILO's Maritime Conventions. The Labour Ministry has been inexcuseably slow in doing so. Ratification of these conventions must be seen as part of turning around the world-wide culture of abuse of seafarers.

Satawu will be seeking a high level meeting with Transnet to discuss measures that must be taken to protect trainees from further abuse.

Statement issued Zenzo Mahlangu, SATAWU General Secretary, July 21 2010