In the coming days, whether President Uhuru Kenyatta, also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, makes a decision to ignore the court orders or dialogue with Somalia over the maritime dispute, the Kenya Navy will be on the spotlight whatever direction the matter takes.
The Navy will be expected to protect Kenya’s maritime area of responsibility which has been adjusted. Since its establishment 57 years on December 12, 1964 as the country’s third military service. The Navy has further proved itself in the ongoing military offensive in Somalia.
The Kenya Navy has the primary role of defending the country against external seaborne aggression and plays the role of policing the country’s territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone.
“Kenya has been in situ i.e. in actual occupation and control of the maritime territory since 1979 and the Kenya Navy patrols and provides security and navigational support to marine traffic in the disputed area,” explains Capt(Rtd) Collins Wanderi.
The former Air Force Captain explains that the Kenya Navy cannot leave, because the void would invite pirates and increase the cost of doing business in Kenya and countries in the hinterland.
“This would make Mombasa and Lamu ports unattractive to International maritime traffic. Kenya cannot afford the mess, so Kenya must stay put!” Capt(Rtd) Wanderi says.
To carry out this task, the Navy has a wide arsenal and experience on its disposal, as published in the book, the Kenya Navy A 50 Year Voyage Official Commemorative Publication of the Golden Jubilee.
The Kenya Navy is organised into three fighting Squadrons, namely the pioneer 66 Squadron, the 79 Squadron and the 86 Squadron. The squadrons are supported by the Clearance Diving Unit(CDU), the Special Boat Unit(SBU), the Fleet Maintenance Unit(FMU) and the recently created elite unit, the Marine Ranger Regiment.
The first Navy Fleet, the 66 Squadron, was launched in 1966 with just three ships namely KNS Simba, KNS Chui and KNS Ndovu, all built in the United Kingdom. KNS Simba, the first Kenya Navy ship to be built, was decommissioned (taken out of service) twice, once in 1988 and again in 1992 and later on used for training purposes.
Notably, KNS Simba, KNS Chui and KNS Ndovu, were extensively used during the Shifta campaign in August 1966 to transport the Army and the police to Lamu. In 1974, a new squadron was added to the Kenya Navy upon the acquisition of KNS Mamba, becoming the first ship of the 76 Squadron.
KNS Mamba’s firing firepower was composed of a powerful weapon package comprising of 30mm twin Barrel Oerlikon guns forward and four Gabriel I Surface-to-Air Missiles aft, multiple rocket launchers and anti-air artillery.
In 1976, there more ships, KNS Jamhuri, KNS Harambee and KNS Madaraka, were delivered and joined KNS Mamba to form the initial 76 squadron of ships. KNS Mamba and KNS Madaraka were decommissioned in 1990.
The 86 Squadron consists of two fast attack crafts namely, KNS Nyayo and KNS Umoja and two offshore patrol vessels, KNS Shujaa and KNS Shupavu, all with the ability to conduct anti-surface ship patrols, anti-aircraft defence and limited close range coastal bombardment.
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The vessels can stay at sea for about 14 days, during which period 1,800 nautical miles may be covered without refueling at an average speed of 14 knots with a full complement of men carried.
“The four ships have integrated packages of sensors, weapons and the present generation tactical coordination system enabling them to counter multi-dimensional threats and making them an ideal command and control platform at sea. With their sophisticated sensors and weapons, the ships are capable of giving gunfire support to land-based troops and can also engage air units with their medium and short range weapons,” the Kenya Navy commemoration book reads.
Three of the four 86 Squadron ships were used in bombarding the Kismayu town and neutralizing the Al-Shabaab militants and was involved in the beach landing operation at Kismayu where it was used to ferry Kenya Army soldiers to the combat zone.
KNS Shujaa and KNS Shupavu comprise the Navy’s Offshore patrol vessels and their special features of high maneuverability, speed and endurance makes them suitable for patrols of Kenya’s territorial waters and offshore resources in the exclusive economic zone(EEZ).
The KNS Galana and KNS Tana which entered into service in 1994 are used as logistics ships. They have the capacity to transport an infantry company of the army together with all integral vehicles and equipment. There is also the KNS Harambee II (formerly FNS La Rieuse) and KNS Jasiri.
KNS Harambee II is a former French police vessel which was handed over to Kenya in 2011 and which became the first unit to cross over into Somali while deployed in Operation Linda Nchi in combating Al-Shabaab.
The KNS Jasiri, a project started in 2002 and finally delivered to Kenya Navy on July 26, 2012, is designed to carry multi-roles. In the capture of Kismayu, KNS Jasiri was deployed as part of the vanguard force, to insert 100 special forces to the port city. It was also used as the Command ship (flag ship) and hospital ship in the mission.
The ships are fitted with various guns and missiles including the dreaded Ottoman missile which is designed to delay after impact to enable penetration into the target before it explodes. The Navy also operates riverine boats specifically designed to operate in littoral and shallow water environments. The Kenya Navy has its roots in World War II when at the beginning of September 1939, after German forces invaded Poland, Great Britain declared war on Germany. Subsequently, Britain moved to establish bases along the Indian Ocean coastline in order to protect its interests in the East African Protectorate.
The move was also meant to wage war on its Germany enemy then stationed in Tanganyika. After the end of the war in 1945, the British established a depot in Mombasa for the Royal Navy which in 1952 became the Royal East African Navy(REAN) at the present site of Bandari College in Mombasa.
In 1964, the Royal Navy flag was lowered to give birth to the Kenya Navy. After its inauguration, the first batch of 10 officers were enlisted and sent to Brittania Royal Naval College Dartmouth, UK for training. The 10 were Buni Rua, ND Gatonmye, JRE Kibwana(Later KDF head), JCJ Kimaro, ES Mbilu, TG Mulwa, RW Musau, J Nguru, BOC Onyango and S Suero.
Lt Col JCJ Kinaro served as the first African Navy Commander from 1972 until his death in a road accident in 1978. General (Rtd) JRE Kibwana and Major Genera l(Rtd) ES Mbilu also served as Navy commanders. In 1966, Major General (Rtd) BOC Onyango became the first Kenyan midshipman after completing his UK training.