Six seafarers, five Kenyans and a Tanzanian, have been left stranded in Kismayo by a ship owner.
Veteran sea captain Leonard Omollo, 51, is a disturbed man stranded in war-torn Somalia with little food to spare and at the command of an un-seaworthy vessel.
Omollo together with five others have been holed up in Somalia since June 23 this year after they were hired by a Mombasa based Somali businessman to transport 7 tonnes of miraa (khat), a stimulant popular with many people in parts of East Africa including war-torn Somalia.
Speaking exclusively to The Standard on telephone from Kismayo Port where his rickety vessel, MV Al -ANAMMAR 1 is stationed, the veteran mariner of more than two decades said that they left the Port of Mombasa with the khat cargo which was initially scheduled to be offloaded in Djibouti .
They were later directed by the ship owner who called them nearly halfway their journey to make a detour and offload at Port El Maan in Somalia territory instead.
”We obeyed and did as what was directed for us to do and on our journey back ended up in Mogadishu Port after encountering very rough seas,” he said.
It was while at Mogadishu Port that Port authorities and security teams boarded their vessel for mandatory Port inspections and took away their vital documents that included passports and seamen books.
Other crew members include Benedict Lumati (engineer), Salim Rashid (bosun) George Odhiambo Adongo (able seaman) Ali Manyiro Banzi (oiler), all Kenyans and Mr Rajab Ali Rajab (able seaman), a Tanzanian national.
And as is if to make matters worse, the owner of the vessel, a dhow registered vessel that flies a Zanzibari flag has abandoned them.
”We have been surviving on donated food from the Kenya Navy personnel who are part of the Amisom team currently on deployment mission in Kismayo,” Captain Omollo said.
Apart from being abandoned, the crew cumulatively are yet to be paid $ 4840 (Sh432,000) since they joined the ship.
Their hope of returning home after the initial voyage to join the rest of their families continues to be nightmare each passing day.
”You all know that Somalia is a war-torn state. In fact, recently when we were in Mogadishu, our vessel was within the vicinity of the popular Lido Beach which was the scene of an Al Qaeda bombing incident that left scores dead and several injured,” Capt Omollo said.
It is after this incident that Omollo decided to head to Kismayo where their safety could be guaranteed.
“This unseaworthy ship has become our floating prison since June as we await help from the Kenyan government to travel back home,” he said.
The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) Mombasa Ship Inspector, Ms Betty Makena who has been following on the case of crew from Al- Annamar 1 said that the owner who lives in Mombasa has gone underground.
”Despite summoning him to my office, he has remained adamant. I have informed Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) on the case and hope that they will follow up with relevant government agencies to compel the owner to repatriate the crew back home to Kenya,” she said.
In Mombasa, where Omollo and team have families, their absence is taking a heavy toll.
Makena said that she has contacted the Seafarers Union of Kenya to try and reach out to the families of the seafarers together with the Mission to Seafarers, Mombasa centre to offer physiological support and counselling.
”We are hoping that sooner these seafarers will return back home safe and sound,” she said.
Capt Omollo said that since the vessel lost its main anchor after it fell off into the deep waters, they have been afraid to venture out into open seas as its navigational capabilities is hindered.
”We were able to cruise at a speed of 10 knots on our initial days in the voyage when we set off from the Port of Mombasa. Today, that is next to impossible with terrible weather, we are only able to do 1 knot which is not enough for good sailing,” Capt Omollo said.
Meanwhile, the family’s debts are piling up. With some being forced to sell personal belongings to help make ends meet.
SUK Secretary General, Mr Steve Owaki said that they have been contacted by some family members whose next of kin are aboard the ill-fated vessel for help.
”At the moment, we are overwhelmed and hope that the vessel local handling agent can chip in and assist the relatives of the seafarers here with food supplies and money for upkeep.”
Worldwide, there are no less than 5,000 seafarers on a total of 400 vessels that have been recorded as abandoned on board ship, in records kept by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
There has been a dramatic rise in cases over since 2017 and 2018. In 2018, 791 sailors on 44 ships were abandoned, while in 2017 a total of 55 instances were reported, according to the IMO/ILO database. In the previous five years, an average of just 12 to 17 ships a year were abandoned.
The IMO and human rights groups have compared abandonment to forced labour or modern-day slavery.