AKHONA GEVEZA | Safmarine findings ‘contradict’ reports of sexual abuse

Safmarine says findings from its internal probe ‘contradict’ initial reports that a female cadet had complained of sexual abuse while serving on a UK-flag containership.

Commenting on the findings, Safmarine chief executive Tomas Dyrbye said the probe contradicts initial reports that just prior to her death Geveza had complained to the ship master of sexual abuse by a chief officer.

“Akhona had, in response to a direct question from the master, denied that she had been subjected to any form of sexual abuse,” said Dyrbye.

In a timeline of the incident, Safmarine suggests that rather than report rape, Geveza had told the master she had “personal problems” in her relationship with the chief officer and had “suicidal considerations”. After a meeting between Geveza and the chief officer with the chief engineer as witness, it was agreed Geveza would be signed off the ship at Trieste two days later.

Jan de Vrij of Safmarine Legal says the company concurred with the findings of the preliminary Croatian police investigation that Geveza had committed suicide near Rijeka, where her body was found, having jumped overboard the boxship.

He said: “Calls have subsequently been made for the investigations to be reopened and Safmarine has, and will continue to, reconfirm its willingness to co-operate in any future investigations, even though we have neither reason nor right to distrust the conclusion reached by the Croatian investigation.”

But unions are continuing to lobby for an investigation. Nautilus says it is “unsatisfactory” that the UK government had yet to open its own probe into the death on board a UK-flag ship having entrusted the probe to the Croatian police.

Spokesperson Andrew Linington said: “We see the issue of jurisdiction come up often as an excuse not to do anything or even as part of the process of criminalising seafarers.”

The ITF says it is waiting on the authorisation of Geveza’s family to send a mission to Croatia to urge further investigation.

“Since Akhona’s death the ITF affiliates in Croatia, ITF maritime operations and Nautilus International have worked to keep the pressure on the Croatian authorities — in particular Nautilus has appealed to the UK government to ensure that the Foreign Office [through the flag state administration] take an active leadership role in the investigation,” the union said in a statement to TradeWinds.

The ITF says it is still pursuing the probe having seen “several documents written by the investigators to the Croatian State Attorney regarding the investigation”.

Safmarine says it has upgraded its cadet programme run by Transnet following the Geveza incident to make sure the company is doing “everything we could to ensure the safety and well being of those serving on our vessels”.

Now all cadets have 24-hour access to the Internet and personal e-mail. They are also given life skills training by an industrial psychologist on how to cope with conflict and harassment and have access to an independent third-party employee assistance programme.

Cadets will only sail on the Europe-to-South Africa route.

Edited from Tradewinds’ “Latest probe casts doubt over death”, published on 2011.07.08

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