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Fishermen net explosive catch instead of fish

By JAMES OMORO | Published Tue, May 15th 2012 at 00:00, Updated May 14th 2012 at 17:25 GMT +3

Every morning the fishemen row their boats into Lake Victoria with a lot of hope for a bright day as they ascertain the number of fish trapped by nets they cast the previous night.

Netting fish is their way of life; the source of their livelihood.

Now this normal expectation has suddenly changed to anxiety for the fishermen of Mbita District of Homa Bay County.
In the recent past these fishermen have netted bombs instead of fish.

And one of them, John Oimo, 61, is mourning his six-year-old son.  A netted bomb ripped away his son’s life and destroyed his permanent house.

After burying his son, he now needs more than Sh5 million to have his house restored.
The lake is no longer full of fish, they say, but bombs — and the Government is not detonating them to reassure the fishermen and other residents that the lake is safe.

“My son was not sick but when I came home that evening, I found people mourning. . . my son had died,” says Oimo, who now wants the Government to compensate him and other people who lose their lives or property as a result of the explosives in the lake.

Live bombs
Since last February, 30 live bombs ranging from 40 to 85 millimetres have been found in the lake by the fishermen.
Those who have netted bombs instead of fish wonder how the gadgets that are usually in metal boxes end up in their nets.

“Recently, I tried to pull my fishing net out of water but found it heavier than usual. I suspected I had caught giant fish which could earn me a lot of money,h only to find a bomb in my net,” says Omondi Malowa, a fisherman from Kogalo Beach.

He said a number of fishermen from Kogalo, Kiumba, Wayando, Lwanda Rombo and Utajo on Rusinga  and Ngodhe islands count themselves lucky to be alive after escaping death due to the explosives.  Daniel Okoth, a fisherman at Kiumba Beach, recently came across a huge bomb, which experts say is known as millimetre tank.

“I had cast my nets as usual but I was surprised to find a medium-sized wooden box instead of fish. On opening the box, I uncovered a big bomb inside.

“I took it to our beach management unit officials and they called the police,” says Okoth of his narrow escape.
The Homa Bay County Beach Management Network chairman, Edward Oremo, says they are just lucky not many people have lost their lives as a result of the explosives.

This is because many of the of fishermen, who have found the bombs, kept them in their houses, so as to sell them to scrap metal dealers.

“We thank God that these bombs didn’t explode in their houses. We could be looking at so many casualties by now,” says Oremo.

He says some of the residents only believed what they were harbouring was dangerous after tragedy struck and Oimo’s son was killed.

A month ago, the boy, Fidel Oimo, was playing with a metal at his home near Kiumba Beach on Rusinga Island at dusk.
He had found the metal in his parents’ house. After getting tired of playing with the rusty ‘toy’, the little one threw it into a fire. It exploded and killed him instantly. It also killing extensively damaged the parents’ house.

Two other people at the scene sustained serious injuries and were rushed to hospital.

The incident caused a lot of worry among residents who had previously thought the bombs were rusted metals.
Mbita OCPD Cheruto Githinji led a delegation of police officers and other leaders from the region to advise the residents on the dangers of the explosives.

Surrendered bombs
“After talking to the people, many of them came up to confess that they were holding the bombs and surrendered them. We realised that some people had kept them in their kitchens, bedrooms as well as shambas,” Githinji says.

She warns area resident to be wary of any strange metals they come across in the lake and report the same to the police immediately to avoid endangering their lives.

“I want to tell the residents to stop assuming any strange metal they come across. You may see them as metals which are rusting but let me assure you that a bomb ceases to be live only when it is exploded,” says the Githinji.

A bomb expert that The Standard talked to  says that a bomb can stay for several years before exploding as long as it is not tampered with.

“The moment you expose it to any source of heat, that will be it. It is because high temperatures easily make them explode,” says the expert.

Although it is not clear how the bombs found their way to the lake, area residents believe the explosives were dumped in the lake during the Second World War that took place between 1939 and 1945.