SAMSA, NGOs rally jointly to save starving crew members on board three reportedly abandoned vessels in Durban.

FOOD ON BOARD: Some of 18 crew members of three vessels reportedly abandoned at the port of Durban, South Africa; receiving food parcels arranged between the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), Meals on Wheels Community Services SA and the Mission for Seafarers on 18 January 2022. With the seafarers are (far left) Mr Sibusiso Rantsoabe of SAMSA, (third right) Mission to Seafarers Durban port Chaplain, Reverend Thami Tembe and Ms Germaine Melody Cecil Jolene Maasz of Meals on Wheels Community Services SA.

UPDATE:

Pretoria: 28 January 2022

Publication of this story on Monday this week has, possibly expectedly; elicited wide public attention in South Africa and abroad. As a consequence, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) has sought to assist enhanced public awareness about the situation by providing more granular detail through media interviews including national television. Some of the interviews shared here include one of the sailors on board the vessels. Click on the links below for more. Please do note that these are totally independent reports by news media and only shared here for purposes of enhancing public awareness about the situation.

Pretoria: 24 January 2022

A group of 18 seafarers grappling with apparent abandonment on three vessels docked in Durban have been sparred at least a month of hunger and starvation, thanks to the intervention of the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) acting jointly with two non-governmental organisations, Meals on Wheels Community Services SA and Mission to Seafarers this past week.

According to the organisations in a joint statement on Monday, the crews are manning three vessels reportedly abandoned by their owners – two of these vessels stranded for between two (2) and five (5) years ago – as a result of which the 18 seafarers are battling daily for necessities but especially food.

SAMSA confirmed separately that it has and continues to be constantly involved in efforts to resolve issues revolving around the fate of the vessels since about five years ago but would not divulge details due to confidentiality related reasons among those parties involved.

DELIVERING FOOD AID: On site to deliver food parcels to 18 crew members of three vessels reportedly abandoned at the port of Durban on 18 January 2022 are (From Left) Meals on Wheels South Africa offical, Ms Germain Melody Cell, Jolene Masssz and Meals on Wheels national programme director Mr Gershon Naidoo and SAMSA seafarers welfare manager Mr Sibusiso Rantsoabe.

In the joint statement, the parties said: “The vessels PSD2 and Fairy Tale have been at the port of Durban for between five (5) and two (2) years respectively while the PSD104 arrived at the port earlier this month. The vessels are currently manned by 18 seafarers collectively, one (1) Iranian, six (6) Bangladeshi and 11 Indians.

“The 18 seafarers have not been paid salaries for several months and were running out of food in a matter of hours which prompted Reverend Tembe from the Mission to Seafarers to make a desperate call to SAMSA for assistance.

“SAMSA in turn made a call to the Meals on Wheels Community Services South Africa who, without hesitation, made food parcels available to the seafarers.

“The food parcels comprising various nutritious foods were delivered to the 18 seafarers on 18 January 2022 by a team from Meals on Wheels Community Services South Africa led by its National Programmes Director Mr Gershon Naidoo. It is estimated that the food supplies will last the seafarers for up to four (4) weeks,” said the entities in the statement.

According to SAMSA, whose legislated mandate expressly includes the active protection of life and property at sea, vessels and crew abandonments are a general phenomenon.

Citing the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), SAMSA said abandonment of ships and crew at sea was characterised by a situation where “a shipowner fails to fulfil certain fundamental obligations to the seafarer relating to timely repatriation and payment of outstanding remuneration and to the provision of necessities of life, inter alia, adequate food, accommodation, and medical care. 

“Abandonment will have occurred when the master of the ship has been left without any financial means in respect of ship operation.”

SAMSA further quoted the IMO as saying that as many as 438 abandoned ships involving 5,767 seafarers were recorded globally between 2004 – 2020 and that estimates indicated that “there are many other cases worldwide which go unreported.”

In fact, the IMO notes that: “There has been a dramatic rise in cases over the past three years following the entry into force on 18 January 2017 of the 2014 amendments to MLC (Maritime Labour Convention) 2006  concerning financial security in cases of abandonment.”

In addition to various other instruments and activities to manage cases of ships and crew abandonments, the IMO says it works closely with organisations such as the International Labour Organisation, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) to maintain a database of incidents, and encourages especially its more than 150 Member States globally to report such cases to the international organisation on occurrence.

“A Member State or an organization accredited to ILO or IMO is entitled to report an abandonment incident. The following stakeholders are consequently entitled to report to the database:

  • Flag States may report cases of abandonment in their jurisdictions. The State the flag of which the abandoned vessel is flying has the primary responsibility to repatriate the abandoned seafarer or fisher if the shipowner fails to make arrangements for, or to meet the cost of, repatriation.
  • Port States may report cases of abandonment in their jurisdictions. The State in the port of which the abandoned vessel is situated has a secondary responsibility to repatriate the abandoned seafarer or fisher.
  • Labour-supplying States may report cases of abandonment in their jurisdictions. The country of nationality of the abandoned seafarer or fisher also has a responsibility to repatriate the abandoned seafarer or fisher if the flag or port States fail to do so.
  • NGOs with consultative or observer status in IMO or ILO.

The procedure to be followed in reporting cases of ships and crew abandonment is outlined on the IMO’s website, including the contacts details applicable.

Meanwhile, in Pretoria on Monday, SAMSA, Meals on Wheels Community SA and Mission for Seafarers committed to continue working jointly in the meantime in efforts to alleviate the plight of abandoned crews.

According to SAMSA; “The Mission to Seafarers through their Durban Port Chaplain, Reverend Thami Tembe, has been working alongside SAMSA to provide relief to the distressed seafarers. Reverend Tembe who has become like a father to these seafarers have been providing them with emotional support and spiritual counselling and organising food supplies.”

Meals on Wheels Community Services SA, well known for helping those who are poverty-stricken within the borders of South Africa with nutritious meals and food security, said its involvement in the Durban situation was its first venture into the maritime space “and we hope that there will be many more opportunities to partner with SAMSA and The Mission to Seafarers,” said Mr Naidoo.

Mr Naidoo added that members of the public keen to land a hand were welcome to do so. “Should (anyone) wish to know more or like to get involved with us, (they may) visit our website https://mealsonwheels.org.za/ , email us at info@mealsonwheels.org.za or  check out “Meals on Wheels Community Services” Social Media pages.

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SAMSA joins University of KwaZulu-Natal for study of Covid-19 pandemic impacts on South African seafarers

Pretoria: 09 April 2021

With more than 133-million people globally infected by the Covid-19 pandemic and close on 3-million of these having succumbed to the virus as of Wednesday this week, the true full impacts of the virus on human society – a full year after its outbreak in Wuhan, China in late 2019 – have yet to be determined.

This notwithstanding, according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), the suffering by those already affected has been intense and among the victims already reeling from the impacts of the pandemic are millions of seafarers worldwide, thousands of them being South Africans.

It was for that reason that the agency, under the supervision of the Department of Transport, has thrown its full weight behind a survey undertaken by the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) to collect information directly from South African seafarers that will assist indicate the nature and extent of the Covid-19 pandemic impacts on them.

The survey led by UKZN Professor Shaun Ruggunan, seeks to; “….investigate the impact of Covid on South African seafarers.  This survey specifically focuses on how Covid has impacted South African seafarer’s in terms of their work-life balance and the impact of Covid on their mental, emotional and physical well-being,” says the university in a statement.

Said Prof Ruggunan: “We hope that the survey will allow us to show how important seafarers are to the national and global economy and bring greater attention to their work and challenges during the pandemic. The results will be shared and potentially drive or inform policies of employee well-being for SA seafarers. The survey will benefit both employers, seafarers, agencies and seafarer labour market institutions.”

SAMSA File Photo.

Unregistered seafarers far more at risk of negative Covid-19 pandemic impacts

SAMSA

For SAMSA, the initiative was of critical importance and value in more than one respect with regards the country’s seafarers, according to Mr Sibusiso Rantsoabe. Generally, he says, seafarers can be described as operating virtually under the radar – that is, taking up employment with various companies domestically and globally yet without formal registration, and therefore now currently suffering the impacts of Covid-19 without being noticed for assistance.

Mr Sibusiso Rantsoabe. Manager: OHS & Maritime Welfare. SAMSA

“The impact of Covid-19 has been felt worldwide. Seafarers have not been spared. Seafarers have been working throughout, as maritime transport is responsible for carrying 90% of world cargo by volume. It was essential that shipping continued to operate through various lockdown regimes implemented by different countries. This ensured that critical movement of supplies of food, medicine, including medical equipment remained unhindered during lockdown,” says Mr Rantsoabe.

However, several countries across the world inclusive of many that are South Africa’s trading partners in Asia, Western Europe and the American continent embarking on variable states of national lockdown to this day, seafarers struggled and continue to, with millions finding themselves unable to sign off in various ports around the world due to travel restrictions.

“Some seafarers including South Africans found themselves stuck in vessels for much longer periods than they signed for. This led to the situation being termed ‘the humanitarian crisis at seas’,” said Mr Rantsoabe, pointing to the intervention that soon ensued in the global maritime sector led by both the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and other interested and affected parties, calling for seafarers to be declared “key workers”.

With the full backing of the United Nations, the intervention soon succeeded as the IMO, in a Circular letter No.4204/Add.35/Rev.4 issued on 05 February 2021 advised that 55 of its Member States, including South Africa had signed a resolution to declare seafarers “key workers”.

“This has not stopped seafarers suffering due to stringent travel restrictions still in place in various jurisdictions,” said Mr Rantsoabe, adding that because of this very fact, SAMSA – through its welfare section – continues to seek ways to ensure that the country’s seafarers are not left alone to battle with Covid-19 pandemic induced conditions at work.

“Hundreds of South African seafarers found themselves stranded in various parts of the world. SAMSA through its welfare programme managed to assist hundreds of seafarers reach home through various direct and indirect interventions which included advising shipping companies on the processes involved in travelling back to South Africa via repatriation flights and best routes for flying South Africans home. The interventions included direct contact with seafarers, employers of South African seafarers and NPO’s with interest in seafarer welfare. 

SAMSA File Photo

“There are still many seafarers that SAMSA could not reach especially cruise staff. Since these seafarers’ occupations do not fall under the SAMSA qualification framework, it was and remains impossible for SAMSA to understand the numbers involved. In addition, cruise staff generally leave the country through recruitment agencies that are not accredited by SAMSA. As such SAMSA is unable to account for them. It is important to note that ‘generally, SAMSA does not get to know when any seafarer leaves the country to take up employment overseas. This has proved to be a major problem as SAMSA struggled to quantify the problem and help required,” he said.

On the UKZN survey, Mr Rantsoabe said: “SAMSA was approached by UKZN for support on the study on impact of covid-19 on seafarer welfare. SAMSA having considered the aim and content of the study fully supports this study. UKZN committed to sharing the results with SAMSA which will provide the Authority with much needed information.

“It is very important that SAMSA gets a full picture of what is/was faced by seafarers during this difficult period. The results will assist SAMSA as we continue to advance the interest of seafarers in various forums within government. The study will also provide information that will help shape the Authority’s welfare offering. All seafarers are encouraged to complete the survey as it will help SAMSA better understand the impact of Covid-19 on seafarers,” said Mr Rantsoabe.

Meanwhile, Prof Ruggunan stated that: “Participation is voluntary, anonymous and confidential and no survey can be traced back to any individual. The survey takes approximately 6 to 7 minutes only and can be accessed on a phone or computer via the link provided (see headline pic above) or by clicking on the photo placed on the landing page of this blog platform, or one placed on the landing page of the SAMSA website.

For further information, alternatively queries; these may be directed to Prof Ruggunan either by email or mobile phone as follows: ruggunans@ukzn.ac.za, cell: 079 1970 743. Also, for all seafarer welfare issues, seafarers both South African and international can correspond with SAMSA through the following email address: welfare@samsa.org.za

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