State points daggers at unsafe boats as accidents rise

A boat leaves Homa Bay Pier on December 22, 2021. [James Omoro, Standard]

Stung by public outcry over increasing cases of accidents, the government has announced plans to inspect all boats operating on Kenyan waters.

After the inspection slated to start on April 1, all boats and vessels, 24 meters long and below, mainly used for fishing and water transport, will also be fitted with a tracker to make it easy to trace them.

According to the Mining, Blue Economy and Maritime Affairs Cabinet Secretary Salim Mvurya, the inspection will be free of charge because most of the boat operators are artisan fishermen.

“The exercise will boost the safety of water transport in the country,” said Mvurya after unveiling the new CEO of the Bandari Maritime Academy (BMA), Dr Eric Lewa, in Mombasa.

The last mass inspection of the vessels operating on Kenya’s territorial waters was conducted in 2011 by the then-former head of maritime safety at Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) Wilfred Kagimbi.

However, the 1999 Indian Ocean Memorandum of Understanding of Port State Control Officers (IOMOU) has been raising the standards of vessels operating on the Indian Ocean.

Last month, three fishermen who went missing for 22 days after their boat was swept into the high seas by waves, and capsised were rescued by a Chinese fishing ship.

However, the fourth fisherman could not be found. The four were on a fishing expedition before their vessel developed a mechanical problem and was swept by waves deep into the ocean.

Several cases of capsizing vessels have also been reported on Lake Victoria, forcing the government to roll out the coxswain training programme.

Last year, five women and one man died after a boat they were travelling on was hit by huge waves and capsized in Lake Victoria.

In another heartbreaking accident, five children from Arap Moi Primary School died in October last year after a boat they were riding in, in Amazement Park, in Uasin Gishu County, capsised.

The 2011 report by Kagimbi revealed that at the time, a total of 5,550 boats were inspected, and out of these, 3,306 had deficiencies.

“Serious deficiencies noted led to the detention of 600 ships. The overall detention for the year is 10.81 percent,” states the report.

The report recommended that IOMOU should enhance the skills of the PSC officers through consultation and training.

“Members have not become complacent, but continue to strive to ensure that the Indian Ocean region does not become a haven for substandard shipping that could increase the risk of serious accidents including loss of life and marine pollution,” said.

In an interview, Mvurya said that the state will inspect all vessels that are 24 metres long and below to ensure they meet the criteria for safety.

“After inspection, we will then give the vessels an identification to ensure they operate in a safe environment. We also have the data bank to assist us in case of any problem,” he said.

He directed the country’s maritime regulator, KMA, to tighten inspection measures for bigger vessels to ensure they are sound.

At the same time, Mvurya said the government has trained 5,410 coxswains operating on the Indians ocean to ensure compliance with marine safety requirements.

He said from March 1 this year, the training teams will move to the inland waters of Lake Victoria, Lake Turkana, Lake Baringo, and Lake Naivasha.

“President William Ruto gave a directive that we should train 2000 coxswains in the coast region. We have managed to train 5,410 coxswains operating in the Indian Ocean and in March, our teams will be moving to train more coxswains in inland waters as well,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mvurya has announced plans to review the Sh35,000 charged for the Standard of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW) course for seafarers at BMA following complaints that the program is costly.

Mvurya called for transparency in the selection of students for training and placement as seafarers to work on foreign vessels, saying all Kenyans should have an opportunity for jobs in the maritime sector.

“In the next two weeks, a team will complete an assessment to review the charges for the STCW course downwards at BMA. This is after Kenyans complained that the course is costly,” he said.

The CS said fees for training coxswains at BMA have been reduced from Sh125,000 to Sh70,000 to make it affordable.

He directed KMA and BMA to work closely with the Ministry of Labour and Utalii College to strengthen the training and employment of seafarers abroad.

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