Kenya has gone slow on its earlier plan to set up a coast guard as officials opt to boost coordination among various security agencies to protect its 600km-long coastline.
Instead of forming a separate security unit as promised by President Uhuru Kenyatta in January 2014, the government will get existing agencies such as Kenya Navy, Kenya Police Service, Kenya Ports Authority, Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Revenue Authority to work together.
Last week officials from key security agencies staged a simulation in Mombasa revolving around a range of routine business and incident scenarios.
The table top exercise presided over by Maritime Commerce Principal Secretary Nancy Karigithu was designed to promote “whole-of-government approach” to maritime security.
“While there has not been a single incident of piracy reported in our waters or the region at large since the Kenya Defence Forces crossed into Somalia in 2011, we must take note of the various attempts in the high-risk area off the coast of Somalia,” Ms Karigithu said.
She added: “[Just like our borders] our maritime domain must equally be protected and quality intelligence, industry engagement and quality inter-agency and inter-country relationships will all play an important role in this.”
Experts, among them the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis have recommended setting up a coast guard as an effective way of handling illegal fishing and piracy on Kenya’s portion of the Indian Ocean.
When he launched RV Mtafiti, Kenya’s first oceanographic vessel in 2014, Mr Kenyatta announced plans to set up a coast guard to work alongside the Kenya Navy.
Such unit would patrol Kenya’s waters, safeguarding marine interests in its exclusive economic zone, Mr Kenyatta said.
For the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), last week’s training in Mombasa was the fifth to be held in the Western Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden region this year, having completed similar activities in Djibouti, Maldives, Mozambique and the Seychelles.
“Our role includes supporting Kenya’s national capacity to perform coast guard functions through inter-agency cooperation and development of maritime strategies and contingency plans,” the IMO said in a statement released after its security experts led the Mombasa tabletop exercise.
The UN agency is using such drills as part of its effort to rally member states to implement the Djibouti Code of Conduct on repression of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the region.
Repression of piracy
The code was initially adopted on 29 January 2009 by Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Maldives, Seychelles, Somalia, the United Republic of Tanzania and Yemen.
Comoros, Egypt, Eritrea, Jordan, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates later signed up, bringing the total to 20 countries from the 21 eligible to sign.
Under the code, which became effective from the date it was signed, signatories have “to cooperate to the fullest possible extent” in the repression of piracy and armed robbery against ships.
It obligates members to cooperate in the investigation, arrest and prosecution of piracy and armed robbery suspects. Members also have to help each other by interdicting and seizing suspect ships and the property aboard.
Other areas include cooperation in the rescue of captured ships and conduct of shared security operations.
Data produced by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea shows that Kenya has tried most of the piracy and sea robbery cases forwarded by signatories and partners such as North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), European Union and the East African Stand-by Force.