Debate rages on creation of shipping jobs in Kenya

French naval supply ship Var. PHOTO BY PHILIP MWAKIO/STANDARD

Debate is raging in the shipping sector on the best ways for Kenya to create employment for more than 7,000 local sailors and provide sea-time for students taking maritime courses.

Maritime experts and the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA), which regulates the industry, are weighing options that include opening the ship register to attract ships from across the globe to fly the Kenyan flag; bare boat charter, which means renting ships for a certain period; or outright purchase of ships.

Sylvester Kututa, managing director of Express Shipping Logistics East Africa, has backed the proposal to open the country’s ship register, saying it would attract many foreign vessels that can offer employment on voluntary basis. Kenya’s registry only allow vessels that are owned by companies or persons that are residents of this country.

“An open register will increase the volume of ships and the country can charge a fee for the certificate issued,” he said.

Mr Kututa says Kenya would only require to have a network of marine surveyors and flag state inspectors for the vessels flying the Kenyan flag so as to protect its name from being damaged by ships that may not comply with local maritime regulations.

He also called on the Government to support the private sector through incentives such as Export Processing Zones (EPZ) to acquire ships which would in turn offer employment and training for Kenyans.

He pointed out that Zanzibar and Comoros had adopted this concept successfully. “Zanzibar bought a ship last year, bringing the total number of vessels to three. This is the right time to purchase ships because prices are low,” Kututa, a member of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers (ICS), said.

He argued that Ethiopia’s government had managed to run its eight ships because its management model was different from Kenya’s; all the country’s cargo is carried on State ships. He opposed suggestions that Kenya adopt Bare Boat Charter (BBC), where the country rents ships from foreign vessel owners and pays monthly for a certain period.

“It is risky to run ships on bare boat charter. Algeria failed and its ship was auctioned in Mombasa,” he explained. A shipping sector analyst, Mr Andrew Mwangura, however, said bare boat charter option was the best as it would enable the country rent a ship that carries oil, bulk cargo and ore at the same time.

“This option is suitable for Kenya because such a vessel can transport the cargo that the country imports or exports and at the same time provide sea-time for Kenyans,” Mwangura argued.

He also said government should offer incentives to the maritime industry to expand employment for sailors and reduce the unemployment crisis.

“One major solution to the job crisis would be to give incentives to shipping companies. Several developed and some developing maritime nations have put in place advanced incentive systems, which include tax considerations, access to ship financing, corporate social responsibility to the nation and legal instruments that make it mandatory to have certain number of crew and cadets of the given nation on board ships,” he noted.

He pointed out that the Egypt Maritime Academy had approved a proposal to extend some incentives to shipping companies to cause them to employ Egyptian crew. The proposal says a minimum percentage of total crew will be set in consultation with the ministry of transport, Maritime Authority and Suez Canal Authority.

Last Saturday, KMA chairman Mwalimu Digore hinted at the possibility of Kenya opening its closed ship registry to attract foreign vessels which could be convinced to employ Kenyan sailors and provide sea-time training for Kenyan maritime students as the country has no vessels of its own.

Mr Digore said the board of directors was considering going the Panama way by opening its ship registry and wooing vessel owners to register them in Mombasa. Monrovia in Liberia is the second-largest ship register in the world.

He said the alternative was to adapt the Ethiopian model of buying ships, which would require a huge investment.

Kenya has been running a closed register with only 26 small local marine crafts because of security fears but, but Mr Digore said Panama has been secure although it has the world’s leading ship register.