Nautilus calls for detailed investigation into death of cadet who was lost overboard from a Safmarine boxship
Steve Matthews | LLOYD’S LIST
THERE are increasing concerns about investigations into the suspicious death of 19-year-old South African officer cadet Akhona Geveza who was lost overboard from the UK-flagged Safmarine containership Safmarine Kariba on June 24 while the ship was in Croatian waters near Rijeka.
This case once again throws the spotlight on how to ensure the proper investigation of serious crimes onboard ships at sea where various legal jurisdictions are potentially involved.
Officers’ trade union Nautilus International general secretary Mark Dickinson has written to UK secretary of state for transport Phillip Hammond, urging that a proper investigation is undertaken regarding the circumstances surrounding her death.
Ms Geveza was onboard the Safmarine ship as part of an arrangement with South African harbour authority Transnet to provide seagoing opportunities for Transnet cadets. Transnet specifically encourages the recruitment of young South African women as officer trainees.
In particular there are concerns that she had previously made allegations that she was raped by the ship’s Ukrainian chief officer. It has been claimed that other South African cadets have made similar allegations. Safmarine told Lloyd’s List that it “has not received any complaints of sexual harassment taking place onboard its vessels”.
In his letter Mr Dickinson says: “We believe it is particularly important that the UK, as flag state, takes a highly visible leading role in seeking to establish the truth of the allegations and – if true – to ensure that appropriate action is taken.”
It calls on the Department for Transport to do everything possible to secure a full and transparent investigation.
Mr Dickinson has also written to UK Home Secretary Theresa May expressing concern at the lack of information about any criminal enquiries into the allegations. He says it is unclear whether investigations are being carried out by the South African police, the Croatian police, or the British police. An added complication is that the Ukrainian chief officer left the vessel in Port Said, Egypt.
A spokeswoman for Safmarine told Lloyd’s List that investigations into the death are still underway. She said that Safmarine was co-operating with authorities investigating the matter, which include the Croatian police, South African Maritime Safety Authority and the UK Marine Accident and Investigation Branch.
However, Lloyd’s List understands that the MAIB is not actively investigating the incident as it normally defers to any ongoing police investigation, which in this case appears to be in the hands of the Croatian police.
A DfT spokesperson said to Lloyd’s List: “This is a tragic incident and we extend our sympathies to the family of Ms Geveza. This is now the subject of a criminal investigation and we are happy to assist if asked. However, it is not for the DfT to intervene in a police enquiry.”
Lloyd’s List contacted the Croatian police but at the time of going to press they were unable to give any information on the status or progress of the investigation.
A spokesman for the UK Home Office said to Lloyd’s List that British police involvement in such international investigations usually follows a mutual legal assistance request from authorities in other countries, but the Home Office does not confirm or deny whether such requests have been made in individual cases. Lloyd’s List understands that British police are not currently conducting an investigation into this incident.
This uncertainty about how the death is being investigated highlights fears that the various jurisdictions involved could end up with an inadequate investigation taking place into an extremely serious criminal offence.
Nautilus is concerned that the case has important implications for the international maritime industry and especially ensuring equal opportunities as the industry seeks to attract more women seafarers. “There must be no whitewash and no cover-up,” Mr Dickinson said.
The union has tabled a motion, in co-operation with the South African Transport Workers Union, at this week’s International Transport Workers Federation Congress in Mexico City. It expresses concern that “these allegations could damage irreparably the image of shipping as a career choice for young people and especially among young women”.
It calls on the ITF to ensure that Ms Geveza’s family receive justice with a full and open investigation and action concerning all allegations of abuse by Transnet cadets and that any conclusions are implemented quickly. The ITF should “send a message to the shipping industry that the worldwide maritime trade union family will not tolerate this kind of treatment of any seafarer on any ship and redouble its efforts to support the eradication of harassment and bullying at sea and the promotion of mutual respect and equal opportunities in shipping”.