Crimes at sea are often not properly investigated because jurisdiction is complicated and many ships sail under Flags of Convenience.

Akhona aboard ship

Akhona Geveza aboard ship

In 2010, South African sea cadet Akhona Geveza disappeared overboard from the Safmarine Kariba after alleging she had been raped by her ship’s chief officer. Other cadets also made allegations of male and female rape, pregnancy and bullying and harassment.

Her body was found near the Croatian port of Rijeka. Her parents believe she was murdered.

Although the ship is registered in Britain, UK police took no action because they had no jurisdiction.

In 2011, Rebecca Coriam disappeared from the Bahamas registered cruise ship Disney Wonder, where she worked on the Youth Activities team. Although she was a British citizen, because the ship was registered in the Bahamas and she disappeared near Mexico, UK authorities were unable to investigate.

Rebecca Coriam in her work uniform

Rebecca Coriam in her work uniform

There have been renewed calls for a change in the law and a new investigation, after Ms Corriam’s MP Chris Matheson raised fears that she had been murdered.

Responding to the news, Mark Dickinson, general secretary of the international seafarers’ union Nautilus International, said:

‘The disappearance of Ms Coriam is just one of a number of crimes at sea which fail to be properly investigated due to the complex nature of jurisdiction in the global maritime industry, which is made worse due to the lack of regulatory control by some ship registers including many Flags of Convenience.

‘Nautilus International, the trade union for maritime professionals, believes that the British police should be required to investigate all serious criminal incidents on UK registered ships wherever they are; on all ships in UK waters; and any serious criminal incidents involving UK citizens at sea.

‘In America, the FBI must be informed about any maritime incidents, in any jurisdiction, which involves US citizens, no matter where a ship is registered. We support Lord Prescott’s call for this kind of legislation to be introduced in the UK.

Mr Dickinson added that the UK can if it wants investigate crimes on British ships in any waters but this does not always happen.

‘In June 2010, South African cadet Akhona Geveza died after falling overboard from the UK-registered containership Safmarine Kariba off the coast of Croatia,’ he said.

‘On the morning of her death Ms Geveza was due to meet with the ship’s captain following allegations of sexual assault on board. She never made it to that meeting and we have never been convinced by the Croatian authorities investigation which concluded that Ms Geveza committed suicide. The British Police were ready to investigate but they were never asked to do so.’

‘Despite the incident taking place on a UK-registered ship, and  following repeated calls from the Union, the UK government claimed it had no jurisdiction to launch a separate investigation.’

171 people have disappeared from cruise liners since 2000, and complaints of sexual assault are widespread. Disappearances at sea are also a feature in the poorly regulated fishing industry.


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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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