MARITIME | Safmarine ship officer removed from duty after cadet death

Company moves to act after allegations surrounding Transnet cadet death

MYSTERY continues to surround the death of 19-year-old Transnet cadet Akhona Geveza on June 24, who fell overboard the Safmarine Kariba vessel in the Adriatic Sea, off the coast of Croatia.

Following allegations in South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper that she was the victim of a rape on board the ship, Safmarine has confirmed the vessel’s chief officer has been removed from duty.

The line stated: “Safmarine, as vessel owners, instructed the chief officer be relieved from duty as soon as we became aware of, and evaluated, the allegations against him.

“He went ashore in Port Said on July 2, which was the first opportunity for him to be relieved from the vessel.”

The line said that he was on a temporary contract and his departure from the ship “resulted in the automatic cessation of his contract”.

The Sunday Times reported that after the alleged rape Ms Geveza informed the captain of the incident, who then convened a meeting with her and the chief officer. After she failed to turn up at the meeting a search was conducted across the vessel and, failing to find her on board, that exteneded to the sea. Her body was discovered in the water several hours later.

Safmarine Africa region executive Jonathan Horn said he could not comment on the fate of the chief officer while an investigation was now under way involving the Croatian police, the South African police, Transnet, the South African Maritime Safety Authority and the UK Maritime Accident and Investigation Branch, because the vessel is UK-flagged.

“Until the authorities and other agencies complete their investigation into his alleged involvement into the death of Ms Geveza, we are unable to provide any additional information. And we will not speculate.”

However, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union general secretary Zenzo Mahlangu claimed the investigation would be difficult to conduct because of all the different agencies involved.

“In the case of Ms Akhona’s death there now six different authorities and institutions involved in the investigation. Satawu wonders whether a successful investigation leading to appropriate prosecutions is possible in such circumstances.

“Ms Akhona’s death should signal to our government the importance of developing our own ship’s register, where South African seafarers can work on ships owned and registered in South Africa, and therefore be protected by South African laws, including labour laws,” he added.

The Safmarine training programme is has been actively supported by Satawu, and Mr Horn defended the company’s regime for handling female cadets.

“We wish to state clearly Safmarine goes to great lengths to ensure the well-being of female cadets at sea. We do this by, among other measures, ensuring they are placed in groups or pairs on our vessels (as was the case of Ms Geveza).”

However, Safmarine has confirmed it has launched a review of its entire cadet programme, including the selection criteria and subsequent training.

Following the Sunday Times article, the shipping line also received a message from Lkouise Angel, the first female to take command of a Safmarine vessel, and was at sea when reports of Ms Geveza’s death were published.

Capt Angel wrote: “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.

“These allegations have really stunned, saddened and shaken those onboard; if an incident of this nature has taken place, we can only hope that the law is allowed to take its course.”

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