According to industry representatives, sea-faring has become even more dangerous than it always has been. The safety record along the East African coast is particularly unenviable with hundreds losing their lives at sea over the past few years.
Sailors face increasing numbers of unseaworthy vessels protected by flags of convenience, attacks from well armed pirates venturing from the Horn of Africa and a lack of training which has lead to individual errors of judgement.
Maritime experts in Mombasa believe that more than 85% of cargo ships that dock at Mombasa and Dar es Salaam ports do not meet the basic international safety standards. Indeed the list of incidents is tragic proof of criminal negligence.
In January 1998, the Kenya-registered fishing vessel, Bahari Kubwa, lost George Mtoto Muangia in mysterious circumstances, off the Somali coast, while Saleh Mwalim, another Kenyan, went missing while aboard the same ship. Then the MV Mirage sank at berth in Mombasa, while during May, June and July six vessels sank in the western Indian Ocean.
Juma Khamis, the general secretary of the giant Kenya Dock Workers Union and regional chairman of the International Federation of Transport Workers (ITFW), Africa region, says that the vessels are sub-standard in accommodation, general conditions and safety. Moreover, adds Khamis, these ships are an environmental hazard and a threat to marine life and the ecosystem. They also pose grave danger to the sailors' lives with the unsafe equipment on board.