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Lake remains death trap despite heavy investment to boost safety

NYANZA
By Kevine Omollo | June 27th 2016
Friends and relatives at Lihunda Beach, Siaya County, after members of Extra Boys Band were involved in boat accident in the lake on Saturday. Nine were killed. [Photo: Denish Ochieng/ Standard]

Accidents continue to kill many people in Lake Victoria despite heavy investment in surveillance and maritime safety.

On Saturday, nine musicians died when a boat they were using from Lihanda Beach in Siaya County capsized, 20 minutes before docking at Ndeda Island Beach.

Two weeks ago, Environment PS Charles Sunkuli commissioned a Sh300 million navigation aid that will demarcate and light pathways for boats and other vessels sailing in Africa’s largest fresh water lake.

This came a month after the launch of a search-and-rescue boat to improve rescue operations within the lake.

The boat is expected to play a key role in enhancing collaboration between the Maritime Police Unit, Kenya Ports Authority, Kenya Wildlife Service and the Fisheries Department to boost safety in the lake.

MARITIME TRAINING

The World Bank is financing construction of a Sh80 million ultra-modern maritime training school in Kisumu. The institution will offer complete maritime training and will also offer marine model facilities to ensure international maritime standards are achieved.

Through the Lakefront Development Project, the county is working on another Sh40 billion project to at revive lake transport connecting Kisumu to the East Africa countries.

However, even with all the attention, Lake Victoria remains a major death trap as more and more water travellers continue to lose their lives in accidents.

In December 2012, a fishing adventure turned tragic after six fishermen died when their boat capsized at Bumbe Beach. Six months later, three fishermen died after their boat capsized off Matoso Beach.

In August last year, two people died after two boats collided near Remba Island in Homa Bay County.

However, rescue operations during these accidents have been at their lowest ebb due to lack of facilities including boats.

It has also emerged that lack of training among seafarers is a major cause of boat accidents in the lake. Stakeholders fear that more lives are still at risk if necessary measures are not taken.

Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) records show there are over 16, 000 crafts operating within the Kenyan waters but most of them are untrained.

Vitalis Leo, the Director, Kisumu Maritime Centre, says understanding weather patterns and how to navigate through the lake requires specialized training, which many seafarers in the lake have ignored.

“Any trained coxswain cannot allow passengers into his vessel without safety equipment such life jackets. I think surveillance ought to be strengthened to ensure anybody who owns or operates a vessel has trained crew,” said Leo.

Mr Leo, who runs a marine school in Kisumu, accused vessel owners of refusing to employ trained seafarers. “They have also been using unlicensed people who have little knowledge on marine safety and operations,” he added.

KMA Kisumu branch inspector Jeremiah Onyango said they are determined to restore sanity in lake transport.

He said preliminary investigations showed the boat that capsized in Siaya was a fishing vessel, not licensed to carry passengers.

“We going after owners who leave their vessels to untrained people. We will start with the owner of the boat that capsized recently,” said Onyango.

KMA is mandated to accredit boats and operators, and issue licences indicating tonnage, capacity and safety compliance of the boat.

A fee of Sh2, 000 is charged to acquire a licence for a smaller boat while one life jacket goes for Sh1, 000.

“Operators are taking advantage of KMA’s leniency to flout rules and this will not be tolerated,” Onyango said.

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