Monday, 26 July 2010

Cadet’s rape and death at sea throws up numerous allegations of abuse against senior officers.

“It was like we were dumped in the middle of a game park”

Investigations are ongoing into the death of the 19 year old South African Akhona Geveza, a female cadet in the Transnet National Port Authority's maritime studies programme who was sailing on the “Safmarine Kariba’. Her body was found floating off the Croatian coast last month just hours after she had reported that she had been raped by the Ukrainian Chief Officer. She had just two weeks to go to finish her apprenticeship.

The incident that occurred on a British registered vessel has shocked the maritime community. Although the official word from the Captain is that, "We are still busy with the investigation. Nothing has been found yet," other cadets have alleged a pattern of abuse by senior officers on board the ‘Kariba.’ Cadets claim systematic abuse of power by senior officers at sea "who threatened cadets' careers if they did not perform sexual acts”.

About a hundred young South African women have enrolled in the Transnet National Ports Authority’s Maritime Studies Programme in a campaign that was to encourage girls to go out to sea. However, the programme on the Kariba seems to have gone horribly wrong.

At 10am on June 24, Geveza told Capt Klaudiusz Kolodziejczyk that she had repeatedly been raped by the Chief Officer aboard the ship. Kolodziejczyk reported later that he immediately confronted the officer and convened a conference with him and Geveza for 11am. However, she never arrived. A bottle of thinner and some pills were found on the forecastle and the alarm raised with shore authorities. A search found Geveza’s body floating in the sea three hours later. Geveza had confided to a fellow cadet the previous night that the Chief Officer had forced himself on her many times.

On board the Safmarine Kariba, the incident has been termed a suicide so far. However, the South African police and Transnet have launched independent enquiries after Geveza’s body was returned home last week.

Many cadets in the maritime studies programme, speaking to the Johannesburg Sunday Times on condition of anonymity, alleged systematic abuse of power by senior officers, including claims by both male and female cadets that they had been raped at sea; a female cadet had to terminate two pregnancies. Another male cadet was allegedly signed off because he refused to have sex with a senior officer. One female cadet has reportedly had a child with a South African Maritime Safety Agency executive after he threatened to cancel her contract if she told anyone that she had been raped.

A cadet told the newspaper that her batch of ten women cadets was told on board 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.”

Safmarine Container Lines NV is a Belgian shipping company based in Antwerp. It has been owned since 1999 by the Danish worldwide conglomerate A.P. Moller - Maersk AS; its website says it has an independent management board. Safmarine says that it is conducting a thorough inquiry into what happened, and will cooperate fully with authorities that are pursuing their own investigations.

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