On the 24th June 2010 a string of events culminated in the death of a young South African cadet serving on board the Safmarine Kariba. The discovery that Akhona Geveza had allegedly jumped overboard disturbed the maritime industry deeply and sent the media into a frenzy of headlines that spoke of rampant sexual abuse of cadets at sea. The next day – on the 25th June 2010 – the vessel returned to the place where Akhona had been found to hold a memorial service and lowered a floral wreath into the sea.
For some months media speculation around the actual facts surrounding the death of Akhona continued while the Croatian authorities investigated the incident. Locally Safmarine seemed perplexed that newspaper reporters had managed to uncover an apparent legacy of sexual harassment that extended beyond the current incident; and journalists did not name their sources in these allegations. Further investigations ensued and reports that the South African Maritime Safety Authority planned to conduct their own investigations surfaced this year.
In their July issue of Navigator (an inhouse publication), Safmarine devotes three pages to Akhona Geveza and the events that surrounded her death. They trace her last day onboard the Safmarine Kariba and discuss why they do not feel that the allegations of sexual misconduct existed on their fleet of vessels.
Capt Louise Angel weighs in on the debate saying; “A ship is run like a small community; this is our home for three to six months at a time and there is always someone you can turn to onboard if you have any kind of problem, and everybody generally knows everybody’s business. Our ‘bush telegraph’ onboard is finely tuned for sources of information (aka gossip) and at no time have we heard any allegations of sexual misconduct onboard any Safmarine ships.”
One cannot expect however, that those that travel our seas are always one hundred percent happy or one hundred percent at ease. Just as we experience our ups and downs in our own daily lives on land – seafarers must surely experience theirs. That we can take day off or easily seek comfort from our family or friends is something we take for granted. That we have the option of going home after a tough day in the office and relaxing with a glass of wine (or going to the gym for that matter) is another given.
Seafarers are stuck with their colleagues 24/7 for extended periods of time – a situation that must surely lead to periods of mental discomfort. For the most part they can move forward and look ahead to a time when they come ashore, but (for whatever reasons) Akhona was not able to do so and the whole maritime industry needs to acknowledge that the support systems in place failed this young cadet.
And so it is fitting that Tomas Dyrbye, CEO of Safmarine is quoted as saying; “We deeply regret any possible lapse in our duty of care which may have played a part in this sad incident and we remain deeply remorseful that we, despite our best efforts, could not have prevented Akhona’s death.”
But the industry also has to move forward. We have to continue to attract suitable candidates to engage with a career at sea and we have to continue to honour those that do.
Tomorrow is The International Day of the Seafarer. If you are in the maritime industry – what are you doing to say thank you to these men and women who have committed to the challenges at sea? In South Africa we have teamed up with some of the progressive maritime companies including Smit Amandla Marine, Grindrod and SAMSA to publicly demonstrate our appreciation. We will be participating in Flash Mobs around the country in Cape Town, Pretoria, Durban and Mossel Bay.
What are you doing?