Boat operators in Lamu County are a worried lot following the ongoing dredging activities for Lamu port berths at Kililana and Manda Bay areas.
The areas where massive dredging activities are underwa are key travelling channels which have been used by the Lamu sailors and other sea users since time immemorial.
The dredging activities for the second berth is being carried out by the China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) after construction of the first Lapsset berth was completed this month.
But boat operators and other sea users, including the fishermen in the region, who were interviewed by Shipping on Tuesday expressed concern that many of the safer and more convenient navigation routes are likely to be shut down once the new port begins operations in the near future.
The Lamu Archipelago has over 5,000 boat operators plying the various islands in the region. Sea travellers from Lamu Island to the far flung islands of Pate, Siyu, Faza, Kizingitini, Mkokoni, Kiwayu, Ndau and Kiunga have to ply the Mkanda, Kililana and Manda Bay channels in the Indian Ocean in Lamu in order to connect their journeys to their various destinations.
But since the dredging activities began in 2016, the boat operators’ movements have been restricted to certain points in the Indian Ocean.
Lamu Boat Operators Association Chairman Hassan Awadh has been pushing for the national government to consider compensating all the boat operators due to the effects the Sh2.5 trillion Lamu Port construction has had on their livelihoods.
Mr Awadh said just like fishermen in the region are being compensated for the effects of the Lamu Port project on their trade, the boat operators too deserve similar treatment as their livelihoods will be equally affected.
“We’re going to suffer just like any other affected persons. Most of the safe routes we use to transport people across the ocean will no longer be accessible once the Lapsset (Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport) begins, not to speak of dredging which is already causing sleepless nights. Many of us will not have the courage to do this business when the port starts running and that’s why we are demanding compensation,” said Mr Awadh.
Mr Yusuf Ali, a boat operator in Mtangawanda said the dredging might lead to closure of almost all their key travelling channels, particularly those within Manda Bay area.
“Our movements are already being restricted yet it’s only one Lapsset berth which is complete. We’re aware that the Lamu port has a total of 32 berths,” said Mr Ali.
“That means by the time these port berths are constructed and completed, we will have nowhere to pass through since the channels at Manda Bay will have been closed completely.”
The boat operators’ sentiments come at a time when the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) has issued a stern warning to the sailors and other sea users in the region to steer clear from routes close to the Lappset site in Kililana and Manda Bay areas where dredging activities are currently underway.
The dredging is being conducted ahead of commencement of the construction of the second and third berths which are planned to be ready by December, 2020.
In a statement, KMA Director General George Okong’o revealed the presence of dredging equipment, a buoy supporting a submerged dredging pipe which was placed along the busy traffic lane at Manda Bay in the Indian Ocean, connecting Lamu Island and the adjacent Islands in Lamu East.
Mr Okong’o told navigators to exercise “extreme caution” while plying the Manda Bay and avoid going too close to the buoy. He said a collision can affect the underwater obstruction which the buoy marks.
“In accordance to the Merchant Shipping Act Cap 389 section 219, the KMA hereby advises all the Lamu Archipelago mariners using the Lamu Indian Ocean that part of the dredging equipment, a buoy supporting a submerged dredging pipe, is located along the busy traffic lane connecting Lamu Island and the Islands east of Lamu County,” said Mr Okong’o.
“Let’s be cautious when navigating through the Manda Bay. The sea users shouldn’t navigate too closely to the buoy and risk collision with it, its mooring or with the underwater obstruction which it marks.”
He said the KMA is committed to safe navigation and will continue “to take all necessary measures to ensure the same for the entire period of the Lapsset project implementation.”