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Lack of Seafarers’ Identity Document denying Kenyan seafarers jobs overseas

Seafarers’ Identity Document (SID), also known as a Seaman’s Book or Seaman’s Card, is a document that is carried by all professional seafarers. PHOTO/FILE

By ANDREW MWANGURA

newshub@eyewitnesss.africa

Kenyan seafarers are losing job opportunities aboard cruise ships operating in Mexico, Brazil, Florida and the Caribbean due to lack of Seafarers Identification Document.

Seafarers’ Identity Document (SID), also known as a Seaman’s Book or Seaman’s Card, is a document that is carried by all professional seafarers (including cruise ship members or yacht crew) for keeping a record of their time at sea.

The SID is mandatory when they are on board or in transit to and from the ship.

Currently there are 5 MSC owned Cruise ships operating in Mexico, Brazil, Florida and the Caribbean, but they cannot employ Kenyan seafarers due to lack of Seafarers Identity Document (SiD).

It is disheartening to note that 18 Kenyan crew members of MSC POESIA currently heading to Mexico will not be allowed shore leave in Mexico.

The Panama flagged MSC POESIA departed from Mombasa last Saturday evening carrying on board 2,500 passengers and 1,000 crew on global cruises.

Among the 1,000 crew members of the vessel are 18 Kenyan seafarers.

There is urgent need for Kenya government to fast track the ratification, domestication and implementation of the ILO Convention 185.

While the government is focusing most of its efforts improving agriculture and business sector to fight economic problems in our country, it must not ignore job opportunities in the maritime sector.

Currently there are about 3,000 Kenya Seafarers working aboard cruise ships worldwide.

Seafarers’ Identity Document (SID), also known as a Seaman’s Book or Seaman’s Card, is a document that is carried by all professional seafarers (including cruise ship members or yacht crew) for keeping a record of their time at sea.

The SID is mandatory when they are on board or in transit to and from the ship.

As from May last year 2023, the Seaman book officially became obsolete as identification document in the mentioned countries.

In Brazil, the SID is part of the immigration documents required to enter Brazil as a Seafarer.

Effective May 1, 2023, Brazil requires Seafarers to hold a Seafarers Identification Document (SID) in accordance with ILO Convention 185. The SID is mandatory when they are on board or in transit to and from the ship.

In Brazil, the SID is part of the immigration documents required to enter Brazil as a Seafarer.

For some nationalities on board without the SID, a visa waiver is required. One is required for such waiver through the ship’s agents before calling at a Brazilian port.

Ship will be fined where a visa waiver cannot be facilitated.

Seafarers from countries where SID is not available must hold a VIVIS Visa. This must be applied in the home country of the Seafarer before embarkation.

Brazil Visit Visa (VIVIS) is also referred to as a Tourist Visa. These types of visas are issued for short-term stays, no longer than 90 days.

Seafarers, by nature of their jobs, are forced to stay for months at a time away from family and friends on board vessels, considered their home and workplace.

The opportunity to go ashore provides a mental and physical break from routine and contributes to good health and better attitudes towards their job.

However, several life changing events, notably the 9/11 attacks in USA in 2001 came to change the general attitude towards border security leading to the revision of the Seafarers’ Identity Convention No 108 of 1958 to the Seafarers’ Identity Document Convention No 185 in 2003.

Currently there are about 3,000 Kenya Seafarers working aboard cruise ships worldwide. PHOTO/FILE

The introduction of biometrics in this new convention aimed at facilitating shore leave, transfers and transit at maritime borders while respecting the security requirements of port States.

Eighteen years after entering into force, not only is membership scant, but many members of the convention are still struggling fulfilling its requirements.

Seafarers have the right to be issued with SIDs in conformity with provisions of both ILO Convention 108 and ILO Convention 185 by State parties (Members) to the conventions.

In ILO Convention 185, the said identity documents may be issued under conditions prescribed by national laws and regulations for the issuance of travel documents and only to citizens or permanent residents of a country, unlike ILO Convention 108 which permitted countries to issue SIDs to nationals from any country regardless of whether they are nationals or permanent residents of the said country.

It may arise that a seafarer possesses SIDs issued under ILO Convention 108 and ILO Convention 185.

This may come about where one document was issued by a Flag State under ILO Convention 108 and another from his/her State of nationality under ILO Convention 185.

It becomes a problem when the SID provided by the Flag State is still valid. Labor-supplying States will have to be vigilant in this regard.

Articles 3 and 4 of SID Convention 108 and 3 and 7 of SID Convention 185

Article 3 in Convention 108 is the same as article 7 in C185 while article 3 in Convention 185 is the same as article 4 of SID Convention 108. Article 3 of Convention 185 is more detailed than article 4 of Convention 108.

It specifies, among other things:

One, the content and form of the SID with details set out in Annex I, the machine readability and availability of documents to Governments at low cost with difficulty to falsify and that the document is a stand-alone document and not a passport

Two, the maximum validity of the identity document being 10 years subject to renewal after the first 5 years for Convention 185 while it was unspecified in Convention 108

Three, the inclusion of biometric data in Convention 185 as well as the harmonization of content and form. It is no longer at the discretion of Governments. Seafarers also have access to machines enabling them to inspect non-eye readable data.

While article 3 of SID Convention 108 simply states that the identity document shall be in the possession of the seafarer at all times, article 7 of Convention 185 provides that the document could be placed in the custody of the captain with the seafarer’s consent for safekeeping, and that it could be withdrawn by the issuing State if the conditions for issuance are no longer met.

These conditions are to be drawn up in consultation with representatives of ship-owners and seafarers’ organizations with a chance for the seafarer to appeal the decision.

Andrew Mwangura is a consultant at Nautical Advisory Services.

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