Belgian container company Safmarine says that the results of its internal probe on the South African cadet Akhona Geveza's death indicates that no sexual abuse was involved, a statement that contradicts almost all initial reports of the shocking incident. Akhona's body was found floating off the Croatian coast more than a year ago; she was a cadet aboard the UK registered 'Safmarine Kariba' at the time and a part of a South African Transnet National Port Authority programme. Initial reports said that she had complained to the Captain a few hours before her disappearance that she had been raped by the Chief Officer, and that she had told another cadet that the Chief Officer had forced himself on her 'many times'.
Safmarine CEO Tomas Dyrbye now says that his company's probe reveals instead that, “Akhona had, in response to a direct question from the master, denied that she had been subjected to any form of sexual abuse,” says Dyrbye, and that she had indicated “personal problems” in her relationship with the Chief Officer; she had also said that she had “suicidal considerations”. The Captain says he held a meeting with Geveza and the Chief Officer in the presence of the Chief Engineer, where it was decided to sign off the cadet two days later when the ship called Trieste. Safmarine says that Croatian police had reached the conclusion that Akhona, who had just a couple of weeks to go to complete her apprenticeship, had jumped overboard after the incident, a finding Safmarine agrees with.
After the Akhona incident, other cadets from Transnet- of both sexes- had painted a lurid and sleazy picture of trainee sexual abuse in the Transnet programme both ashore and afloat. Reports had said that one female cadet 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. Another female cadet was quoted as saying, after joining a ship, “It was like we were dumped in the middle of a game park.” Other cadets had claimed systematic abuse of power by senior officers at sea "who threatened cadets' careers if they did not perform sexual acts”.
Nautilus, the British maritime union, says that investigations in the Akhona case so far are 'unsatisfactory' and that the British Foreign Office should, through the Flag State, independently probe the shocking incident since it happened on a British registered vessel. Spokesperson Andrew Linington says: “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.” In other developments, the ITF, which has been following the investigations, plans to send its officials to Croatia once Akhona's family authorises them to do so.
Meanwhile, Safmarine says it has upgraded the Transnet programme after the tragedy to make sure the company was doing “everything we could to ensure the safety and well being of those serving on our vessels”. Cadets have been given 24-hour internet access, personal e-mail ids and 'life skills' training by an industrial psychologist, besides having access to an independent third-party employee assistance programme. As an added precaution, they will now only sail on the Europe-South Africa routes.