Kenya will be handed a heavy responsibility when it officially takes over the chairmanship of a regional anti-piracy body.
Kenya was elected to chair the Contact Group on Piracy Off the Coast of Somalia (CGCPS) last year.
The post comes with the onerous task of ensuring that cases of piracy and other maritime insecurity incidents are comprehensively addressed.
On June 20, last year during its 22nd plenary session, the CGCPS announced that Kenya will chair the platform from January 2020 for two years.
“Kenya, actively involved in the maritime domain in the Western Indian Ocean, will be the third country in the region to chair this International platform as from January 2020 for a two-year mandate after Mauritius (through IOC) and Seychelles,” said CGCPS statement in June.
In the plenary session in Mauritius, Defence Cabinet Secretary (CS) Raychelle Omamo, said Kenya is keen to leave a lasting legacy from the regional roles it has been handed.
“We shall be engaged to build on this solid foundation so as to take the group to even greater heights and cement its legacy as an effective mechanism in fighting piracy,” she said.
The June session, which was organised by the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) together with the Republic of Mauritius — current Chair of the Contact Group— brought together more than 200 participants from over 30 states and regional as well as international organisations to discuss the way forward.
The group was created following a UN resolution in December 2008.
But even as Kenya prepares to chair the CGCPS, it is confronted by several challenges, especially insecurity issues along the coast line.
A number of reports about the Indian Ocean has pointed to various possible maritime threats.
In 2017, a document by the International Peace Support Training Centre
Nairobi, Kenya titled An Assessment of Maritime Insecurity in the Kenya Maritime Domain gave out a comprehensive report on insecurity along the coast line and the possible measures that have to be instituted to address them.
The report further said Kenya’s Indian Ocean domain occupies an area measuring 245,320 Km2 made up of an Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of 142,000 Km2 and an extended continental shelf of 103,320 Km2. Geographically, Kenya has an expansive coastal ocean line of 536km.
“By 2010, maritime insecurity in eastern Africa had caused the global community equivalent of Sh1.8 trillion and the cost to Kenya alone was between Sh30 billion and Sh40 billion raising insurance cost with negative effects on regional economies,” the report said.
Andrew Mwangura, a shipping and maritime consultant, said overcoming piracy along the ocean needs a lot of commitment from players in the sector around the world.
“Take an example of the Kenyan-Somalia standoff over the oil blocks found in the disputed area near Somalia. You might see it as a Kenyan-Somalia tiff but beneath are some multinational companies pushing to engage in gas and oil blocks in that area. These are some of the challenges,” said Mr Mwangura.
Kenya Ships Agents Association Chief Executive Officer Juma Tellah said the European Union naval forces have been along the Indian Ocean for the last ten years following the attacks and hijacks of ships by the pirates.
“There was need to have all these forces at sea to address the issue of attacks that had become rampant,” he said in an interview.
A 2009 report by Kenya Shippers Council said shippers were paying Sh2,500 per twenty-foot equivalent unit (Teus) and Sh5,000 for the 40-foot container to offset the increased cost.
In 2012, Mediterranean Shipping Co. announced a new piracy surcharge on containers it transports between ports in South Africa and East Africa because “piracy activities were becoming more and more aggressive, consequently the insurance costs on the vessels to the region have become prohibitive”.
It increased its piracy risk surcharge by Sh10,000 per 20-foot equivalent unit to Sh23,000 per Teu on cargo carried from and to South Africa, and to and from East Africa, including the ports of Dar Es Salaam, Tanga, Zanzibar, Mombasa and Nacala.
In May last year, an adopted report by the Intergovernmental Standing Committee on Shipping (ISCOS) said the menace of maritime piracy had greatly affected the region, introducing new dimensions in maritime transport and coming with heavy costs.
“The fight against piracy including deterring measures have also brought about new ship operating costs which are ultimately passed to shippers, making imports costly and exports less competitive in international markets,” said ISCOS acting secretary General Kassim Mpaata.
“Although incidents of piracy have greatly declined, there is a continuous need for the region to remain vigilant.”
Shipping and Maritime Affairs Principal Secretary Nancy Karigithu underlined government commitment to enhance maritime security along the Indian Ocean.
“We affirm our commitment on matters of maritime security, and in this regard we have now an opportunity to make our contribution to the advancement of the mandate and ideals of the CGPCS,” she said.
Kenya, Dr Karigithu noted, is well aware of the effects of trade by maritime insecurity and promised to make the country safer for international trade to thrive.
During the session, members vowed to continue engaging efforts to combat piracy.
“All the CGPCS members agreed that piracy has been contained but not eradicated,” said the group’s statement.
Piracy has traditionally been a thorn in the flesh of maritime business.