Seafarers end wrangles as new team assumes office

Promises to employ more seafarers and improve livelihoods.

In Summary

• First woman chosen to head seafarers’ union; Kenya has 3,500 registered seafarers.

• Many seafarers have documents but no jobs. Some lack key papers; new managers pledge to rectify the problem.

The new Seafarers Union of Kenya leadership outside their offices on Monday.
The new Seafarers Union of Kenya leadership outside their offices on Monday.

Wrangles that have bogged down the Seafarers Union of Kenya for more than three years appear to be over.

The resolution came after the government registered new officials, committee members and trustees of the union on January 29.

New SUK secretary general Atie Swaleh is the first women leader of seafarers in Africa.

An extract from the register of officials, committee members and trustees signed by acting Registrar of Trade Unions Beatrice Mathenge and seen by the Star, confirms the new officials.

New SUK secretary general Atie Swaleh on Monday said it is the beginning of a new voyage in which Kenyan seafarers will earn from the value of their sweat.

“The wrangles since 2021 is now over. We have been through a lot but where we are from is much farther than where we are going,” Swaleh said at their temporary offices along Haile Selassie Avenue.

She praised the government for its intervention in solving the problems, adding that she will work closely with the government to better the lives of more than 3,500 registered seafarers in Kenya.

On January 16, Mathenge, in a letter to Swaleh, said, “I have registered the Notice of Change of Names or Titles of Officers/Officials (Form Q) dated June 24, 2023, and submitted them on June 26, 2023, as provided under Section 35 (2) of the Labour Relations Act, 2007.”

The new SUK officials include chairman Mwalimu Chii Hamish, his deputy Khalfan Jilani Mwamboje, Swaleh, her deputy Said Chako, treasurer John Hussein Zappa and his deputy Ali Hassan Bakari.

Others are Young Workers’ Representative Mwarabu Abresh Said, shop floor committee representative Alamin Ahmed and committee members Mwachangwe Abdallah Omar, Omar Mohamed Mwadzedze and Suleiman Omar Boma.

Trustees are Fadhili Gona, Mwanamgeni Hassan and David Hendry Kibuyu.

Swaleh on Monday said she will not let down the seafarers who put their faith in her, adding that her main agenda is to help Kenyan seafarers get jobs.

“Charity begins at home. There are many seafarers in Kenya who have relevant documents but remain unemployed. The government should first look into local companies and ensure we have Kenyan seafarers on board,” she said.

She called for a meeting with the Kenya Maritime Authority so they can have a strategic talk on how to move the union forward and work towards increasing the value of Kenyan seafarers in the international arena.

“We would like the government to do some crew changes on the local shipping companies so that every seafarer can get their daily bread and so that our cadets can have proper sea time training,” Swaleh said.

She also asked the KMA to establish a fund that will be used to educate seafarers whose documents have expired and who cannot afford to renew them.

“We would also like to have a committee set up to look into the seafarers documents so that they are not embarrassed when they sail into different countries,” the new secretary general said.

This will help avoid situations where Kenyan seafarers board ships and sail to different countries only to be barred from entering the country because of missing documents.

Countries like Brazil and Saudi Arabia have rejected Kenyan seafarers before for lack of certain documents.

Swaleh asked the government to fast-track the issuance of the Seafarers Identification Documents, which has seen some Kenyan seafarers denied entry into some countries because they lacked the crucial document.

SUK deputy chairperson Jilani said they have faith in Swaleh’s leadership and called on all seafarers to accord her all the support she needs.

“As a team, we have what it takes to lead the seafarers in Kenya. It is important to have seafarers get the justice they deserve,” Jilani said.

Board member and shop floor representative Ahmed said seafarers should expect better days ahead.

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