On day one of Kenya’s new Covid-19 safe crew change guideline implementation, Betty Makena Mutugi, International Transport Workers’ Federation inspector (ITF) in Kenya, set her alarm for 4am to make sure she was at Mombasa’s port by 6am.
She waited while two Ukrainian and one Romanian seafarer signed off the general cargo vessel MV Petra II at Alpha Logistics.
“Are we going home,” they asked. “When? Today?”, one seafarer said as he jumped for joy.
Since 21 July 2020, over 100 seafarers have come down the gangway of 18 hulking cargo ships and one cruise line to board flights home at the port of Mombasa.
“Each time crew embark and disembark they are so happy, so excited,” said Betty.
Some crew want to kiss her. She gives them her phone to call their families. She can hear them down the line shouting in delight.
One of the dock workers came up and asked what was happening.
“When we do the lashing, we talk to the crew,” he said. “They are tired. They never smile. Now they are happy. I’ve never seen them laughing. What’s going on?”
“ tablets and complained of stress and depression when they were in port during the pandemic. One seafarer told her it was like being in a prison. He had gone for months without leaving the ship. When he knew he was finally going home he thanked her and called her his hero. She said: thank ITF and the government of Kenya.
The ITF has been a key player every step of the way from the inception of the new IMO policy to its implementation. When Betty first received correspondence from London asking her to push Kenya to adopt the protocol, she was on the phone to relevant government officials the next day. She insisted that unions must be involved if it was going to work.
All the key stakeholders – the Ministry of Transport, State Department of Shipping and Maritime Affairs, the Maritime Authority, Kenya Ports Authority, Kenya Coast Guard, Port Health, Public Health, Kenya Airways, the ITF, the Seafarers Union of Kenya, and the Kenya Ship Agent Association – worked together all day, without food and only water on the table, to reach an agreement on how the crew change should happen, she recalls.
“Some of us had never met before,” she said. “When we left we all had each other’s contacts.”
So successful is the nation’s new crew change protocol that ships are changing course to come to the port. Since the adoption of Guidelines on ships crew change and seafarers repatriation while observing measures to prevent transmission of COVID-19 on 6 July, Mombasa has been processing up to three or four crew changes on some days.