The Kenya Coast Guard Service (KCGS) seized two Chinese flagged fishing vessels operating within Kenya’s territorial waters last week.
According to Lieutenant Commander Glen Majanga, the two vessels christened Harong 109 and Harong 108 were intercepted off Malindi within Ungama Bay on May 15, 2019.
The arrest was the first of its kind since the unit officially launched in November 19, 2018 by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Reports indicate that the vessels were seized after defying the coast guard’s orders to sail into Kilindini Harbour and instead sailing into a bay in Malindi.
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The coast guards aboard KCSG’s Bangladeshi-built vessel, Doria boarded and searched the two Chinese flagged vessels. No fish was found on the vessels.
Although the operation took place in Malindi on Wednesday, the coastguard service only managed to guide the vessels into custody in Kilindini Harbour in Mombasa on Saturday evening.
One of the vessels is reported to have developed mechanical problems at sea and had to be towed by the other, escorted by the coast guards.
The nationalities of the vessels’ crew were 13 Chinese and 7 Indians, who according to KCGS, had no travel documents and could barely communicate in English.
The crew and the vessels are being held by the marine police at the Mtongwe anchorage.
“Once we are done with investigations, we shall consider handing them over for prosecution,” said Mr Majanga.
He said that the coast guards were keen to find out why the vessels had not called at the Port of Mombasa as required of foreign flagged vessels and instead opted to sail to Malindi.
“Our investigations indicate that the last port of call for the vessels prior to their entering Kenyan waters remained unknown while the first port of call was supposed to be Kilindini, Mombasa, but they went to Malindi,” he said.
A multi-agency team that was involved in the tracking and intercepting of the vessels drawn from KCGS, Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA), Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Fisheries Services and the Kenya Revenue Authority is currently investigating the incident.
“The multi-agency team is mandated to board and inspect vessels and where possible collect, facilitate evidence based on various expertise and responsibilities to prove that seafarers conduct their businesses within the United Nation Conventions on Law of the Sea also known as law of the sea convention,” said Majanga.
The launch of the KCGS last year was meant to fight illegal fishing and combat piracy. The unit is headed by Brigadier Vincent Naisho Loonena.
It is estimated that Kenya loses up to Sh10 billion shillings a year to illegal fishing by foreign boats on the country’s waters.
Pirate attacks launched from Somalia also became a major maritime security concern that saw some vessels steer away from the East African coastline.
Until the launch of the coastguard, the Kenya Navy had been responsible for maritime security. Experts, however, said the navy was overstretched.
“We have been blind at sea. We have been over-dependent on the Navy. It (Navy) is limited in what it can do. It cannot arrest someone and take them to court,” said Andrew Mwangura, a Mombasa-based maritime specialist.