Shipping & Logistics

How murder of tourist changed fate of Lamu

 boat in Lamu Town
Travellers alighting from boat in Lamu Town. Water is the main mode of transport in Lamu County. PHOTO | KALUME KAZUNGU 

At started on the small island of Kiwayu which is at the border of Lamu and Somalia. A British tourist couple was kidnapped in September, 2011 in what is believed to be the first Al-Shabaab invasion in the region.

Mr David Tebbutt,58 and his wife Judith Tebutt were set for a dream holiday at the Kiwayu Safari Village Resort in Lamu East only for David to be killed and his wife taken hostage by the Somalia-based terrorists.

Before then, Lamu was a peaceful haven where you could travel anywhere and at any time.

Every single part of Lamu was accessible whether on land or water and people could travel irrespective of whether it was during the day or at night - it was always safe.

This tranquil and beautiful scenario of Lamu suddenly became history shortly after the kidnapping and killing of one of the tourists.

Since then, Lamu has never been the same. Above all, the security of this region has never recovered from the scars of terrorism.

Numerous subsequent terror attacks by Al-Shabaab in the following years between 2014 and 2018 pushed the security situation to the edge. And despite the heavy presence of security personel , much is yet to be achieved in turning things around and restore the old peaceful and great Lamu.

The situation has resulted to too many restrictions especially at sea where no single boat is allowed to travel at night.

Many boat operators who talked to Shipping and Logistics said their business has dwindled tremendously since they are only allowed to operate within limited hours and areas in the Lamu Indian Ocean waters.

The Lamu Boat Operators Association Chairman Hassan Awadh said the murder of the British tourist , Mr Tebbutt and the kidnapping of his wife by the Somalia pirates in Kiwayu in 2011 has completely jinxed shipping in the Lamu Indian Ocean.

Mr Awadh said the incident led to the introduction of the night fishing and travel ban that particular year, a situation which has been maintained to-date. He added that before the ban was introduced, they could do business freely for 24 hours.

Long distance shippers used to carry goods from Lamu Island to Kiwayu, Mkokoni, Kiunga, Faza, Pate, Kizingitini and other far flung islands and back to Lamu Old Town on the same day. Not any longer.

“The night travel ban has subjected us to utmost poverty. We can’t do business as usual. You are only restricted to travelling during the day. Those who could make trips to places like Kiwayu and come back the same day can’t do the same today,” said Mr Awadh.

“We are only restricted to making one trip, spend a whole night in our destinations before coming back the following day.”

He said since security deteriorated in the county, boat transport business has plunged to as low as 50 per cent.

Other challenges that boat operators and sea users face in Lamu are frisking and registration, which take a lot of time.

According to Mr Mohamed Islam, a boat operator in Ishakani on the border of Lamu and Somalia, boat operators in the area have also been facing security harassment even during the day while carrying passengers. He says navy officers manning the region cannot allow any coxswain or passenger to travel without original national identity card.

Mr Islam said boat operators in the region are being denied access to certain routes.

“We are not free anymore. You need to carry your original ID card whether you are a passengeror a boat operator. Without the ID card, security officers will arrest and harass you and even link you to Al-Shabaab,” said Mr Islam.

Shipping and Logistics also established that you cannot operate in the Indian Ocean waters especially on the Lamu-Somalia border without being registered, a move that the coxswains say is delaying their daily operations.

“Even with the ID card in place, you will have to be frisked with all your passengers before you are allowed to proceed with your journey. Security has come up with all manner of excuses to keep us waiting and by the time we get to proceed with our journeys, we are already late. This is really affecting our boat transport business,” said Mr Mahmmoud Athman.