The ban on logging is threatening to paralyse boat operation in Lamu. Boat operators say they are unable to go into the forest and get mangrove to make new boats or repair old ones. Almost all Lamu motor boats which are used for long distance shipping are made of mangrove.
A nationwide logging ban was imposed on February 24 this year by Deputy President William Ruto to fight environmental destruction, protect water towers and mitigate the effects of drought across the country.
But boat makers and shippers who talked to Shipping in Lamu on Tuesday said the blanket ban has greatly contributed to the dwindling performance of the water transport sector with most boats now parked in their yards as they are in a state of disrepair and thus “water unworthy”.
A spot check by Shipping in major centres of operations such as Lamu Old Town, Ndau, Pate, Faza, Kizingitini, Kiwayu, Mkokoni and the far flung Islands of Kiunga and Ishakani on the border of Lamu and Somalia, indicated that more than 2,000 boats and their operators have been forced to quit the trade within the nine months that the ban has been in place.
Mr Lali Shali,54, a boat owner and maker in Lamu Old Town said since February, they have had to grapple with the “absolute” lack of repair materials for their boats since they are not allowed to get into the forest to harvest mangrove so that they can make timber used to build boats.
“As you can see many of our boats here are parked in the yards. They can’t operate since they need repairs. We use mangrove wood to do all that,” said Mr Shali, who has been in the business for 30 years.
“We can’t also make new boats since the existing logging ban is denying us access to the forest. We are afraid the shipping sector here in Lamu will be forced to shut down if efforts aren’t made for the ban to be lifted.”
Another boat maker and coxswain, Ali Hassan,45 said the poor conditions of their boats have seen them lose customers in droves.
Mr Hassan said many customers who used to travel using their wooden motorboats are now opting for fibre speed boats which are “new and attractive” to them.
“We have no materials to repair the boats and many of our vessels now look old and dilapidated. That alone has led us to lose customers who opt to use fibre speed boats rather than our wooden motorboats. The government should look into this situation urgently,” said Mr Hassan.
Mr Ali Hydar, 44 who has also been in the water transport trade for decades called on the government to allow the Lamu boat makers access the forest to obtain mangrove timber for them to continue their business and earn a living.
He said the nine months that the ban has been in existence has already caused substantial destruction.
The worst affected, Mr Hydar added, are the long distance operators all of whom use the wooden motorboats.
Centres such as Kizingitini, Ndau, Mkokoni, Kiwayu, Kiunga and Ishakani, all in Lamu East Sub-County, have for years been known for their long distance shippers, who ferry various cargo, mainly from the key entry jetties in Mokowe on the mainland and Lamu Island, all in Lamu West.
But Mr Hydar said these operators have been paralysed by the logging ban.
“Our wooden motorboats which are the one used for long distance shipping need repairs from time to time. Since the ban was imposed, that no longer takes place and that’s why a good number of the boats are not in operation. This has greatly affected our activities,” said Mr Hydar.
Mr Hassan Ramadhan opined that the nationwide logging ban should have excluded mangrove, as it is essential to the survival of their business operations.
“Mangrove logging as well as boat making and shipping is an inherited tradition spanning many decades. People should be aware that mangrove is literally part of the culture and heritage of Lamu and as such Lamu can’t function without it,” said Mr Ramadhan.
“Livelihoods are dead too, nothing is normal anymore. We ask the government to reconsider the ban. The ban should have excluded Lamu.”
Early last month, the national government through the Environment and Forestry Chief Administrative Secretary Mohammed Elmi promised to have the ban lifted immediately, but this is yet to happen.
Lamu residents are asking why the government has remained silent over the matter which is threatening their livelihood.