June 16, 2024

Seafarer’s Pick New Officials for Union

Newly elected General Secretary Atie Swaleh Ramadhan (Left) being declared winner by the elections board Chairman Samson Menza Karisa at Licodep Hall Likoni (Photo/Mwakwaya Raymond)

By Mwakera Mwajefa

Email, thecoastnewspaper@gmail.com

The February court ruling for Seafarers’ Union of Kenya (SUK) to hold fresh elections two years after electing current leadership notwithstanding, the wrangles hit the union yet again when the two warring factions held separate elections.

The general secretary Stephen Ojiambo Owaki’s faction held theirs at Mission to Seamen hall on June 21st while the petitioners led by his deputy Atie Swaleh Ramadhan did the ‘proper polls as advised by the court’ at Likoni LICODEP hall on June 24th.

Sitting on February 2, 2023 in Mombasa, the Employment and Labour Relations court Justice Agnes Kitiku Nzei declared the elections held on April 14, 2021 where Owaki won as ‘null and void’ after it was conducted without forming an election board as required by law.

In her ruling, she directed SUK to establish the elections board within 90 days of the judgment in accordance with its union constitution and hold polls in 60 days thereafter.

On the D-Day June 24, paid up 171 active seafarers’ members trooped at LICODEP hall to cast their votes from 8:00 AM to elect their leadership.

Through SUK’s elections board chair Samson Menza Karisa, the members were issued with three ballot papers to elect their chairperson, general secretary and treasurer in three separate ballot boxes.

The tightly secured voting was witnessed by Likoni Subcounty administration through Timbwani assistant chief Binti Mohamed Rashid and clerics’ representative, Juma Salim Mwajeni.

At the same time, armed security personnel with riot-gear were stationed strategically to ensure not nobody disrupt the exercise from any quarters after word went round of a possible attack from rival faction.

The process went on smoothly to its conclusion before Karisa started counting of votes for the treasurer position followed by the chairperson and finally, the general secretary seat respectively.

In a closely contested treasurer position, John Hussein Zappa emerged winner with 83 votes against his archrival Suleiman Omar Boma’s 76 with 12 declared spoilt.

Mwalimu Chii Hamisi gunning for the chairperson seat scooped 110 votes to beat his challenger Khalfani Jillani Mwabonje who managed 57 with four spoilt votes.

The deputy GS Atie Swaleh Ramadhan garnered 131 votes to whitewash her opponent Appolo Odhiambo Orao who got a mere 33 with seven declared spoilt votes.

After being declared the winner of the coveted seat, Coast Media Group approached her for victory comments but declined saying she would only do that after getting the registration certificate from the Registrar of Trade Unions in Nairobi.

“I don’t want to shoot myself on the foot but I will give a comprehensive statement once the leadership officials are first registered. Then, we meet to chart our forward before talking to you people (media).”

Two of the elections’ officials carrying the three sealed ballot boxes accompanied by assistant chief were escorted under tight security to Likoni Police Station for the custody of votes cast and all documentations.

As the newly-elected GS proceeds to Nairobi, back in her mind she will have to contend with issues such as the lack of seafarers’ identity documents (SIDs) among its members who risk being locked out of maritime opportunities.

The SID, also known as Seamen’s Book or Seamen’s Card, is a crucial document that is carried by all professional seafarers aboard vessels so as to keep a record of their time at sea regardless of their nationality, statelessness or refugee status.

It is also for the purposes of providing the holder with identity papers for travel to and from an assigned vessel at the port of call.

Again, she must deal with the emerging ‘unscrupolous recruitment and placement agents’ exploiting unsuspecting seafarers on the blue economy as the new job creation frontier for the youth.

In 2019, according to Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA), it had licensed five agents – Mombasa Ocean Agency, Alpha Logistics Limited, Diverse Shipping Limited, East Africa Deepsea Fishing Limited and MSC Ship Management Limited – to recruit or replace seafarers on and off the land. By then, the authority was also considering another five recruitment firms that had placed their applications.

The new GS will have to find out whether they were issued with licenses after undergoing the mandatory vetting by government agencies to prevent or deter unscrupulous agents out to grab a piece of maritime cake.

As it is, the incoming SUK officials have duties cutout on dealing with ‘seafarers’ who board ships without first reporting to either the union or KMA, thus, exposing themselves to risks when they encounter difficulties or problems aboard vessels.

The new officials will be urgently required to make a date with mining and blue economy cabinet secretary Salim Mvurya, shipping and maritime affairs principal secretary Shadrack Mwadime apart from meeting other stakeholders such as Kenya Ports Authority, KMA among others in the ever-growing maritime industry.

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