Legal tangle over teen’s death at sea


Croatia, SA, Ukraine and Britain all involved – maybe

Lawyers are scratching their heads over the death of a South African cadet, 19-year-old Akhona Geveza.

The teenager died on June 24, while on board Safmarine Kariba. What makes the case so complicated is that the ship is registered in Britain, it was in Croatian waters when Geveza died and, shortly before her body was discovered, she alleged she had been raped by a chief officer on the vessel, who is Ukranian.

South African police are investigating whether Geveza was pushed off the ship, or whether she jumped.

Struan Mundell, a South African maritime lawyer, said although Geveza’s case was tricky as it involved nationals from different countries, “the law of the flag is the best solution on this matter”.

This meant, he said, that the country of the ship’s registration could lead the investigation. “But this law only applies if the ship berthed in one of the ports in the country where it is registered,” Mundell said.

If that were the case, Mundell said, the local authority, in this instance the British, could not be forced to investigate the case.

The Sunday Times has established that the Safmarine Kariba operates between Europe and Egypt – but that it does not stop at any ports in the United Kingdom.

Police confirmed that once the South African investigation was concluded, local authorities would consider seeking foreign mutual legal assistance in a bid to discover the cause of Geveza’s death.

This may involve Britain, Croatia and the Ukraine.

Lawyer Charles Lipcon, from a US-based maritime law firm, said the South African government should be urged to adopt US maritime law.

This legislation allows the FBI to investigate any crime committed at sea against an American citizen or on a US-registered vessel anywhere in the world.

A number of US citizens and cruise liners have been prosecuted in terms of this law, including, recently:

* A New York man who was fined $5000 after he admitted to sexually assaulting an 18-year-old girl on the cruise ship the Norwegian Dawn; and:

* A 71-year-old man who was charged for molesting a six-year-old boy on a cruise ship in December.

Sprite Zungu, a local representative of the UK-based International Transport Workers’ Federation, which deals with maritime cases, said: “As a former seaman myself, I can tell you now that it would be a mission to solve this case.

“Generally, people are reluctant to speak about what happened at sea. We will like to encourage cadets to speak out about sexual harassment at sea.”