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Boat operators in Lamu express fear over Shabaab

Lamu has more than 5,000 boat operators.
Past attacks have seen the number of visitors drop. Lamu has more than 5,000 boat operators. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Boat operators in Lamu have protested dwindling business following fears of Al-Shabaab attacks.

Past attacks have seen the number of visitors drop. Lamu has more than 5,000 boat operators.

Most of them are Standard Eight or Form Four dropouts who have no other reliable source of income.

Lamu Boat Owners and Operators Association chairman Hassan Awadh said the water transport business especially in Old Town was at its lowest.

Normally the high season that runs between July to December brings in domestic and foreign tourists, majority of who come by road and cross into Lamu via boat.

However, the coxswains said this year’s season has been slow, a situation that has been worsened by the recent suspected Al-Shabaab attack at Milihoi which has seen reduced numbers of road travellers going to Lamu, meaning low business for the coxswains.

The latest attack left one police officer dead while two others were badly injured.

Two vehicles were torched during the ambush.

“We are struggling to make ends meet. We are over 5,000 operators across Lamu County. Most of us have been forced to leave the business due to lack of passengers.

‘‘ Business has gone to as low as 50 per cent. All this is contributed by insecurity. Many visitors are not willing to come to Lamu. We appeal to the government to ensure enough security so that tourists can continue to visit Lamu. The more the number of travellers to Lamu, the higher the profit,” said Mr Awadh.

According to Mr Awadh, more than 300 coxswains operate within Lamu Old Town alone.

Boats used are of three categories. First, are normal speed boats which carry up to nine passengers.

Secondly, there are the 15 hosepower racing boats which carry between 10 and 30 passengers.

The huge inbuilt engine motorboat ferries between 50 to 250 passengers.

These boats are mostly used by long distance travellers, especially those moving from Lamu Island to far flung Islands such as Mtangawanda, Faza, Pate, Kizingitini, Ndau, Mkokoni, Kiwayu, Kiunga and Ishakani on the border with Somalia.

Due to the current shortage of customers, at least 50 boat operators go home empty handed daily, he said. Mr Abubakar Yusuf, 45, said that business was disappointing. Coxswains are required to pay between Sh1,500 and Sh2,000 to boat owners daily.

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