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Kenya speeds up quest to fully tap opportunities in unexploited blue economy

By Bernard Sanga and Patrick Beja | September 30th 2021
Wasini, Kenya - March 14, 2013: Traditional Arab Dhow is used as tourism attraction in Kenya. [Courtesy]

In the last 12 years, Kenya has made major strides in the development of the maritime sector billed as a sleeping giant capable of creating millions of jobs and spur economic growth.

According to the Principal Secretary for Shipping, Nancy Karigithu, Kenya has also ratified key maritime conventions to improve the safety and welfare of seafarers.

But analysis of recent scholarly articles and data shows that the country is yet to reap from resources in its ocean area of 245,000 square kilometres - 42 per cent of its total land area.

Experts agree that measures taken to develop the nascent blue economy have not borne desired results because of years of policy neglect.

In 2018, the then Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri revealed that the country was losing over Sh440 billion annually by failing to fully exploit the sector.

And the State estimates Kenya losses Sh10 billion to illegal fishing along the Indian Ocean every year.

The government established Kenya Coast Guard Service to fight the Illegal Unregulated and Unreported Fishing at its waters in the Indian ocean.

A 2018 report by the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (Kemfri) shows that Kenya has the potential of yielding 300,000 metric tonnes of fish worth Sh42 billion every year from the ocean.

For instance, Kemfri reveals that Kenya produces 2,500 metric tonnes of tuna annually, accounting for a paltry 0.75 per cent of the total volume caught by other nations along the same tuna corridor in the West of the Indian Ocean (WIO).

The figures capture the sorry state of the country’s marine fishery plagued by post-harvest losses, lack of modern fishing gear, outdated legal framework and illegal fishing.

Until the 1990s, Kenya had a vibrant marine fishing industry spearheaded by the defunct Kenya Fisheries Industry, which ran a training institute at Liwatoni in Mombasa.

The government is reviving the Liwatoni Fisheries Complex at Sh1 billion. The facility will have six berths, storage and an auction yard. It has also awarded tenders for the re-modelling of Shimoni Port into a fishing port at Sh20 billion.

“The state has rolled out a training programme for the Coastal youth as it targets to create 60,000 jobs in ten years from fishing sector,” said Agriculture CS Peter Munya.

He said the country targets producing between 150,000 and 300,000 metric tonnes of marine fish annually.

On maritime transport, Kenya has started shipbuilding to reduce the cost of importing marine vessels and create jobs.

“Kenya Shipyard Limited (KSL) has started building marine vessels. The agency is also doing dry dock repairs at Kenya Shipyard. This is a major step in the development of the blue economy,” said Kenya Maritime Authority Safety Director Jeremiah Ojowi.

He said KSL in partnership with Daemen Shipyard of Denmark is building a ship the size of MV Huru for the Kenya Railways Corporation in Kisumu. He said recently KSL repaired MV Doria.

Meanwhile, the operationalisation of the Lamu Port in May this year marked a major milestone for the Sh2.5 trillion Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor project.

The port has so far handled seven vessels carrying transhipment cargo. The Sh310 billion port will have 32 berths making it the largest deep-water port in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“As a critical pillar of the Lapsset corridor project, this port will connect South Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya. Eventually, it will connect northern Kenya to the Middle Belt of Africa, which runs from Dakar, Senegal in the west to Lamu in the east,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said when he launched the port project on May 20.

Lamu Port is located at the convergence of major shipping routes, and it is also expected to open up northern Kenya to international trade and fortifying the country’s position as a gateway to Africa.

“With one of the deep-water harbours on the East Coast of Africa, Lamu Port has the potential to become a premier transhipment hub for all cargo destined for the continent. Furthermore, Lamu now joins Mombasa Port as a key entry and exit point of cargo, deep into and out of Africa’s hinterland,” President Kenyatta added.

According to Silvester Kututa, Express Shipping & Logistics East Africa founder, Lamu Port depth will attract transhipment cargo for Tanzania, Mombasa, Somalia and Indian Ocean islands of Comoros, Madagascar, Seychelles and South Africa that are prone to on and off congestion.

Kituta said the future is dazzling if the corridor is extended beyond South Sudan and Ethiopia. “It should also be extended to reach West Africa’s Douala–Lagos–Cotonou–Abidjan Corridor and run through Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire, creating synergies for a mega-market for the port.” 

Ongoing projects

Key projects being developed by the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) to improve efficiency at the Port of Mombasa are nearing completion.

KPA Acting Managing Director John Mwangemi recently said the construction of phase 2 of the Second Container Terminal (CT2) is 88 per cent complete and will be commissioned before the end of the year, creating an extra capacity of 450,000 20-foot equivalent units.

“Apart from the completed construction of Kipevu road, a partnership between KPA and Trademark Africa, which is only waiting to be linked with the Mombasa- Nairobi highway once the latter is complete, CT2 will play a key role as we shall never experience congestion at the port,” said Mwangemi.

KPA is also expected to complete the construction of a bigger Kipevu Oil Terminal, which is 93.5 per cent complete.

The government, through Legal Notice No. 233 of November 28, 2018, transformed Bandari College into Bandari Maritime Academy, a regional maritime centre of excellence.

The academy has developed 12 curricula on employable skills for the maritime sector out of a target of 33 courses it plans to offer.

Acting Director-General Francis Muraya said the college has trained over 398 students in the modular courses and over 2,000 in short courses.

The academy is working with other training institutions and shipping lines to enhance skills.

Last year, KMA inked a deal with the Higher Education Loans Board for students enrolling on maritime-based courses.

The industry is currently struggling with a shortage of personnel because of the prohibitive cost of training abroad. In fact, the academy is largely relying on part-time tutors due to the lack of personnel. 

The Kenya Department of Fisheries is also training 1,000 artisanal fishermen. “The problem will be to get competent trainers because the 17 Kenyans airlifted to Japan in 1967 to learn about the industry have since retired,” said maritime consultant Andrew Mwangura.

According to the Transport Observatory Report released recently, the volume of the transit cargo passing through the Port of Mombasa in 2020 grew by two per cent to 10.171 million tonnes.

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