Fifteen Kenyan fishermen are stuck on a vessel owned by a Somali fishing company forced to work under gunpoint without pay, seafarers lobby has said.
The group is desperately calling out for help to return home, East Africa International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) officer Betty Makena told the Nation.
According to Ms Makena, the fishermen, who were hired by an unlicensed agent in Mombasa in April this year, are working in deplorable conditions and living and sleeping in the open.
She added that from pictures and information she has received, many of them are injured and have not received medical care.
The fishermen claim the employer is forcing them to work for long hours and that those who resist are threatened with a gun.
In documents seen by the Nation, 13 fishermen were hired by Seaport Operations Limited on April 16, 2019 and proceeded to Somalia where they joined other two Kenyans who had been recruited earlier.
Ms Makena says she received a distress call regarding the fishermen working in the vessel named FV Marwan 1 operating in Somali waters.
“The fishermen got my contact from some of their colleagues who they interact with and sent me the details and the pictures on their sufferings. Majority of them are sick and they need urgent medical attention,” said Ms Makena.
She said that according to documents she has received on their employment terms, Somlink Fisheries Investment, the company that owns the fishing vessel, had agreed to pay the fishers Ksh26,000 ($260) monthly. However, she adds, they are yet to receive any payment since they left Mombasa in April.
“The payment is below average as according to International Maritime Organisation (IMO) labour convention which calls for an average of Ksh90,000 ($900) per month,” said the ITF officer, adding that Somalia being a conflict zone a special allowance was needed.
Ms Makena said the seafarers lobby has contacted the Kenyan government to rescue the group.
“We understand the ship will be heading to the Djibouti fish landing site and we hope to make contacts to ensure the crew is rescued there,” she said.
She said efforts to meet he recruiting agent have proved futile after the company declined their requests.
“We have contacted Seaport Operations Limited who recruited the fishermen before handing them over to the Somali fishing vessel owner and they have refused to meet us and our investigation reveal they do not have physical office,” she said.
Seaport Operations Limited is not listed among the five agencies licensed to recruit and place maritime workers on behalf of the Kenya Maritime Authority.
KMA lists Mombasa Ocean Agency, Alpha Logistics, Diverse Shipping Limited, East Africa Deep Fishing Limited and MSC Shipping Management Agency as companies authorised to recruit seafarers.
The Kenya Seafarers Union (KSU) secretary general Stephen Owaki also confirmed the agent did not follow required procedures of as it did not deposit the names of those it recruited with the union.
“Any seafarer recruiting agent after admitting maritime workers are required by law to submit the list of those recruited with KMA and KSU but on this case we did not receive any communication from the agent,” said Mr Owaki.
The incident has come to the fore at a time when Kenya and Somalia have frosty relations over the maritime border dispute that is before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.