Kenya’s coast line will now be guarded by a special force, following the signing of the Coast Guard Bill into law by President Uhuru Kenyatta yesterday.
Stakeholders believe the Coast Guard Service will protect Kenya’s territorial waters from criminals and the exclusive economic zone from illegal fishing.
This marks an important milestone in the management and enforcement of laws in Kenya’s internal and territorial waters.
The Coast Guard Act establishes Kenya Coast Guard Service, which will be responsible for enforcing maritime security and safety, pollution control and sanitation measures as well as prosecution of offenders.
The new service will also be responsible for port and coastal security, search and rescue and protection of maritime resources, including fisheries.
According to the Act, the service shall be partially staffed by civilian professionals seconded from the Public Service Commission, while trained security service personnel drawn from the police, army and intelligence services will form its rank and file.
The service, which will be commanded by a director general, shall be primarily deployed to fight crime in Kenyan territorial waters but can be deployed to work beyond the mandate area to help the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) protect national security and sovereignty in times of war.
The Coast Guard Service will also conduct disaster relief operations. It will replace the Kenyan Police Service in the provision of security at sea ports countrywide.
Other areas of responsibility include protection of archaeological/historical maritime sites, enforcing sanitation measures and pollution control.
In terms of operations, the service shall have the power to stop, enter and board, search and inspect any structure, place, vessel or aircraft suspected to be engaged in any unlawful activity in Kenyan waters.
Its officers shall be empowered to investigate, arrest, detain, interrogate and hand over suspects to the police and the courts for prosecution.
The law also proposes that the Coast Guard be led by a top decision making council comprising the Attorney General, the Chief of Staff of the KDF, the Inspector General of Police, Director General of the National Intelligence Service and Cabinet Secretaries in charge of the security, finance, defence, transport, fisheries and environment portfolios.
Stakeholders in the maritime industry at the Kenyan Coast have welcomed the move by President Kenyatta in sanctioning the formation of a Coast Guard Service.
The Seafarers Union of Kenya (SUK) told Saturday Standard that the decision to have a Coast Guard in place was long overdue.
“We have a Coastline of over 800km stretching from Vanga in the South near the common border with Tanzania to Kiunga further North near the Somali border,” said Steven Owaki, SUK General Secretary.
However, Owaki said SUK was not comfortable with plans by the government to employ ex-military staff to provide manpower to the new unit.
“While we agree that some duties of the Coast Guard are security oriented, it is fair that seafarers who have the requisite qualifications be employed to work with the unit,” he said.
International Transport Federation (ITF) Ship Inspector Betty Makena said formation of the Coast Guard was a boost to the maritime industry.
“It will now be possible to have a service fully dedicated to ensuring our resources at sea are not poached and that sea lanes along the Kenyan Coastline are safe from illegal businesses,” Makena said.