Riddle of cadet sailor’s drifting body deepens with shocking claims of sexual abuse on board
MZILIKAZI wa AFRIKA | SUNDAY TIMES, South Africa
The death of a young South African woman abroad has exposed a shocking sexual abuse scandal. The victims are matriculants pursuing maritime careers.
Just hours after Akhona Geveza reported that she had been raped aboard the Safmarine Kariba cargo vessel last month, the 19-year old’s body was found drifting in the sea off the Croatian coast.
Geveza was two weeks shy of completing her cadetship to become a ship’s navigation officer. She was buried at her home village of Nxarhuni in the Eastern Cape yesterday. Several investigations into her death have been launched.
Geveza was one of more than 100 young South Africans women to have gone through the Transnet National Ports Authority’s Maritime Studies Programme as part of a campaign to encourage young women to become seafarers.
Her death has been billed a suicide abroad – but the South African police have launched their own investigation since the return of her body last week, and Transnet is to set up an independent inquiry into the matter.
Several cadets in the maritime studies programme, speaking to the Sunday Times on condition of anonymity, said there was systematic abuse of power by senior officers, who threatened cadets’ careers if they did not perform sexual acts. The sex abuse allegations include claims that :
- Two male cadets were raped by senior officials while at sea;
- A female cadet terminated two pregnancies that followed her rape at sea;
- Three female trainees were pregnant at the end of their 12-month training stint;
- A male cadet was sent home a month before finishing his programme because he refused to have sex with a senior official; and
- A female cadet has a child with a married South African Maritime Safety Agency executive after he forced himself on her and threatened to cancel her contract if she told anyone.
Said a former female cadet: “When we arrived on the vessel, there were 10 women, and we were told that the captain is our god; he can marry you, baptise you and even bury you without anybody’s permission. We were told that the sea is no man’s land and that what happens at sea, stays at sea.”
Said another former female cadet: “It was like we were dumped in the middle of a game park.”
The former male cadet who was allegedly raped said: “I really don’t want to talk about it. Bad things are happening at sea and I am one of the victims.”
Geveza’s stint aboard the Safmarine Kariba ended tragically on June 24. At 10am that day she told Shipmaster Klaudiusz Kolodziejczyk that she had repeatedly been raped by a senior officer aboard the British-registered ship. According to a report by Kolodziejczyk, he immediately confronted the officer and convened a conference with him and Geveza for 11am.
When she failed to arrive for the meeting, a search was conducted. Kolodziejczyk, alerted by some pills and a bottle of thinners found on the forecastle of the ship, sounded the alarm and called sea rescue from the port of Rijeka in Croatia.
Three hours later, Geveza’s body was found floating in the sea.
Her father, John Geveza, said the career of the bright young woman – his only child – had represented hope for her unemployed parents.
“I won’t rest until the person or people responsible for my daughter’s death are in jail,” he said.
SA police spokesman Major-General Mark Magadlela confirmed this week that police were investigating whether Geveza’s death was suicide or murder.
“We are also investigating allegations that she was raped on the vessel by a senior official.”
Transnet is setting up a board of inquiry. Spokesman John Dludlu offered condolences to the Geveza’s family.
However, he said it was unfortunate that some of the “ex cadets” had opted to raise their claims of sexual abuse for the first time through the media.
“Transnet assures the parents of current and future interns … we will spare no effort in ensuring that all participants in our training programmes are safe. We encourage members of the public and our students to report any form of abuse of authority to our independently managed anti-corruption toll-free line.”
On the night before she died, Geveza confided in a fellow cadet, Nokulunga Cele. Cele made a statement, a copy of which the Sunday Times has seen. In it she explains how Geveza had told her that the chief officer had forced himself on her several times.
Cele said the Ukrainian officer, whose name is known to the Sunday Times, apparently first tried to kiss her while he was teaching her to swim early in May. The officer later apologised to her and called her to his room where he allegedly raped her.
Cele said Geveza was not willing to report the matter to the shipmaster because she feared that nobody would believe her.
Cele informed Kolodziejczyk the following morning.
Safmarine spokesman Debbie Owen said: “Although our association with Ms Geveza was a brief one, we as Safmarine are deeply saddened by her tragic death and Safmarine is conducting a thorough inquiry into what happened.” Owen said the incident was the first of its kind in 30 years.
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