May 22, 2014
21st century slave trade - 24 Sierra Leoneans
freed from Chinese fishing vessels in Uruguay -
signs of beatings and general ill-treatment as
travelling documents seized.
We have been
getting reports from international media outlets
that 28 Africans have been freed, yes freed from
their masters on whose fishing vessel they had
been working. An AFP report quoted by many media
outlets tells the story with this from Yahoo
Africans held 'captive' on
China-flagged vessel in Uruguay.
The AFP report
says - A group of 28 African immigrants were
held in slavery on a fishing vessel off the
coast of Uruguay, beaten and forced to work
without pay, attorneys said Wednesday. The
migrants, 24 of whom were from Sierra Leone and
the rest from Ghana, said they had not been paid
"a penny" since boarding the China-flagged
vessel seven months ago.
They were initially
divided up between three fishing boats but, upon
reaching Uruguay's territorial waters, they were
transferred to a single vessel docked in
Montevideo on Sunday and were taken to a hotel.
Local news reports said that the men had signed
on as contract labor to work on the ship, but
that the ship's captain confiscated their
passports and the crew held them captive. Most
had embarked in Sierra Leone. The men have been
examined by doctors who said they appeared to
have the early symptoms of malaria and possibly
tuberculosis. They have been referred to two
Uruguayan hospitals for treatment.
question we want answered is - why has the fate
of the men not being made public in Sierra
What agency recruited the men who were
clearly desperate to get a job at sea given the
labour market in the country with jobs so hard
to come by?
What action has the Labour ministry
taken to return these men home as well as
carrying an investigation into how these men
were recruited and allowed to leave the shores
of their country?
Getting work on
board ships was quite an opportunity when law,
order and less political interference and was
seen as an opportunity for men, yes all were men,
to earn something for the family as well as
giving the lucky ones the opportunity to visit
Residents of the Cline Town, yes Kanikay area in the east of Freetown know only
too well the benefits to be derived when the sea
men arrived back home at the Deep Water Quay -
oops the Queen Elizabeth II Quay.
The sounds of
music from repaired and reactivated speakers
were there to announce their arrivals and those
who had visited the famous Matadi port in Congo
would come back with 45 rpm records of music
from the present DRC giving all those within
earshot more than an earful of good and exciting
music from the land of the sapeur.
But back to the
twenty four men on board that Chinese-registered
How soon can we see them back in
Sierra Leone with their right wages paid in
Now is the time for the
government to show just how much it cares for
its citizens trapped into slavery so many miles
away which brings us back to another incident of
December, a vessel owned and
operated by Beltship
was involved in an accident in which at least
twenty, if not thirty Sierra Leonean lives were
lost. Beltship was gracious enough to issue a
public statement citing the incident and
promising to give further details.
We are still
anxiously awaiting the promised "further
details". The government for its part, has still
not told the public just how many people died in
the Lungi sea incident, nor what its has been
doing to compensate the survivors and the
relations of those who perished.
We have not
heard a thing from those who sit in judgement -
the compromised law enforcement agencies nor
from the equally compromised judiciary.
We have just seen a report
from the pages of
Sierra Leone Newshunters
on the situation facing men on the seas who had
retired years ago and have still not been paid
their retirement benefits - more than twenty
year on -
We cannot say we are happy with the decision by lawyer representing retired hundreds of old seafarers who are frustrated and totally disappointed, that after almost twenty years since they were declared retired, laid-off or redundant by international sea liner Elder Dempster Lines, they have still not been paid their end of service benefits!
Though we hold no brief for the sea-battered and now system-battered seafarers, yet we are obliged to say a word or two as their plight is both a personal and national concern. We are aware that it is precisely to avoid such inhuman treatment of workers was the main reason NASSIT was set up. However, though we are also aware that at the time Elder Dempster Lines was operating in Sierra Leone, NASSIT was not yet established, it is out firm conviction that the Elder Dempster Lines’ representatives in Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone Shipping Agency (SLSA) should have long ago settled payment of these old but formally hard-working men.
However, in the absence of such intervention SLSA on behalf of Elder Dempster Lines, the field has been left wide open to speculations over what could have caused the exceptional delay and whether the money owed the seafarers had not found its way into the wrong pockets.
And in the Awoko newspaper, we have this story
It is likely that the Government of Sierra Leone may be taken to the ECOWAS Court of Justice and Human Rights on behalf of 852 former seafarers whose payment of end of service by Sierra Leone Shipping Agencies has been in limbo for over 23 years.
Regarded as a “gross violation of human rights” with respect to labour and social security, the Centre for Accountability and the Rule of Law (CARL) backed by a Sierra Leonean human rights lawyer, Sonkita Conteh, have, after a long period of despair, decided to shoulder the 23 year-old case, and to commit the government to genuinely look into the Justice Alghali Commission of Inquiry that was set up in 1991.
Highlighting his stance during a press conference at SLAJ Headquarters, Lawyer Sonkita Conteh said that the Justice Alghali Commission was set up by the Government of Sierra Leone in the year to inquire into the general complaints forwarded by seafarers in respect of non-payment of end of service benefit by the Sierra Leone Shipping Agencies that acted as agents for the former Sierra Leone Elder Dempster Limited, among others, which operated in the country from 1920 till its closure in 1988.
He said that in a bid to bring what he termed as “historical injustice” to terminus, he had, in a letter dated 10th October, 2013 required the government “to take necessary action to give effect to the recommendations of the Justice Alghali Commission of Inquiry.
If no satisfactory action is taken by the government within 21 days, I have peremptory instructions to institute legal proceedings at the Community Court (ECOWAS) of Justice against the government”.