October 27, 2017 By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma
Ex-seafarers of the Sierra Leone Shipping Agency Limited (SLSA), which acts as agent for the defunct Sierra Leone Elder Dempster Limited and other shipping lines, yesterday held a peaceful protest within the precinct of Law Courts building on Siaka Steven Street in Freetown, chanting “we need justice, we are tired of suffering.”
Speaking to newsmen, Secretary-General and Spokesperson of the aggrieved seafarers, Nathaniel Mansaray, said that since 1991 hundreds of ex-seafarers who worked for various shipping lines, including the defunct Elder Dempster Line, have not received their end of service benefits.
According to the spokesperson, the quality of life for the aggrieved ex-seafarers have considerably deteriorated over the past twenty years, with many forced into being vagrants while others have died in misery.
“In 1991, the Government of Sierra Leone set up the Justice Alghali Commission of Enquiry to inquire into the general complaints made by seafarers against Sierra Leone Shipping Agencies Ltd – which is acting as agents for the former Sierra Leone Elder Dempster Limited and other shipping lines,” he explained.
Mansaray told pressmen that at the end of the enquiry in 1992, the commission produced and submitted a detailed report of its findings and recommendations to the Head of State for further action, but nothing has been since.
He revealed that the commission of enquiry discovered widespread and systematic violations of labour rights of seafarers by the SLSA, adding that key among the findings was that in several instances the shipping agencies and their principals acted illegally.
He expressed frustration that successive governments have failed to help them access their end of service benefits, adding that a human rights lawyer, Sonkita Conteh Esq., had written an to President Koroma, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, and the Chief Justice about the human rights violations and injustices meted against the affected seafarers, but noted that nothing has been done to ameliorate their plight.
He praised the Executive Director of Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL), Ibrahim Tommy, for facilitating a meeting between them and Lawyer Sonkita Conteh.
The spokesman appealed to the government, through Office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, to fast track their issue as most of them are living a miserable life while over four hundred have lost their lives as a a result of depression.
“We have suffered a lot and we demand justice from our government to release the White Paper report so that the British company could pay us our end of service benefit,” he said, adding that out of 31 countries that Elder Dempster Limited and other shipping lines used to operate in, they have paid workers their end of service benefits in all but Sierra Leone.