Lamu islands cut off as boat operators withdraw vessels in protest

Speed boats docked around Lamu Island seafront in Lamu County following lack of business in the ongoing low season for Tourists. [Maarufu Mohamed/Standard]
Commuters across Lamu have been stranded since Wednesday after boat operators went on strike over alleged Kenya Maritime Authority’s (KMA) high handedness in enforcing safety and travel regulations.

By yesterday afternoon, boat services had not been restored in all jetties from Mokowe to Amu Island and Mtangawanda.

The protest came a day after KMA conducted a high-level meeting with law enforcers in Amu Island, seeking ways in which boat safety travel regulations would be enforced.

Led by KMA Lamu branch engineer Edward Mulongo, security agents on Wednesday morning launched a crackdown on all boats in Lamu to check on their seaworthiness as well as whether boat captains and coxswains have competence certificates.

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Boat operators yesterday voiced their displeasure at the crackdown which they described as knee jerk reaction.

“Whenever we require KMA officials on the ground to assist in search and rescue efforts, they are never there, but they are quick to demand fees from us the taxpayers,” said Lamu Boat Operators Chairman Awadh Babu.

With most of Lamu Island’s travel being by sea, a spot check showed travellers stranded with their wares on Amu Island as well as Mokowe Jetty, with KMA officials and the police patrolling Lamu waters.

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The boat operators also complained about double taxation. They said KMA charges them Sh15,000 yearly while KPA collects Sh1,500 per month in levies.

“We also have the county government on our necks over levies despite the low returns that the boat business gives these days,” Salim Alwy, a boat captain, said.

However, KMA said it is mandated by the national government to collecting levies and also regulating KPA boat vessels.

KMA branch Engineer Edward Mulongo said most boat operators operate illegally, leading to accidents.

Mkomani Ward MCA Yahya Ahmed “Basode” Shee, who also owns a fleet of boats in Amu Island, complained that KMA does not engage boat operators when they want to enforce safety laws.

Lamu East Deputy County Commissioner David Lusava, however, urged stakeholders to engage and resolve the stalemate amicably.

He added that boat operators need to appreciate that maritime laws are there to be followed, with KMA officials posted to Lamu to aid in enforcement.

“The maritime regulations are for the good of everyone who uses the sea, and it is important that boat operators realise that going forward,” Mr Lusava said.

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Kenya Maritime AuthorityKMABoat owners strike