Will new KMA boss put Kenya on the global maritime map?

Newly appointed KMA Director General, Martin Dzombo Munga. [Robert Menza, Standard]

Kenya for years has lagged behind big maritime countries in Africa such as South Africa, Egypt and Morocco. This is despite having great potential in this area.

Issues to do with maritime safety, a robust water transport system, shipbuilding and the full exploitation of the Blue Economy have proven a challenge for the country. 

In recent years, the government has made big investments in the maritime sector. But the investment is yet to realize full returns.

It is with this picture in mind that the new Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) director general Martin Munga takes office. Mr Munga took office on Monday and is expected to be in charge for the next five years.

He was plucked from a European shipping company. As he took charge, he promised to enhance marine safety including search and rescue as well as maritime education and training in the country.

Munga, who is a naval architect,  pledged to push for the training of 70,000 youth to take up international seafaring jobs.

KMA is the regulator of the entire maritime industry.

Munga observed Mombasa County experiences congestion in the North and South which can be addressed through a water transport system that can be extended to as far as Lamu.

He said there are 200,000 jobs available for seafarers in the international market. “I am going to promote and facilitate placement of Kenyans in the global maritime labour market,” he said.

Shipping and Maritime Affairs Principal Secretary Geofrey Kaituko said Munga will be expected to inject new ideas into the local maritime industry.

KMA chairman Hamisi Mwaguuya said the country spends about Sh600 billion on freight costs annually and called for the implementation of the cabotage plan to ensure Kenyans benefit from the shipping business.

“We want Kenyans to benefit from a share of the Sh600 billion freight cost that goes to international shipping lines,” he said.

Munga promised to reinvent and reposition the maritime sector to encourage private sector investments and funding, adding that he will encourage more Kenyans to venture into the shipping business in line with the African maritime cabotage agenda.

The KMA chief said he will demystify the maritime sector and highlight the potential in the greater blue economy agenda.

He also pledged to promote shipbuilding, ship registration and marine cargo insurance. At the same time, seafarers urged Munga to focus on the creation of gainful employment for them. Many suffer little pay and poor working conditions.  

“There is an urgent need to establish a national merchant fleet, merchant navy scholarship scheme, merchant navy training board, cadet training scheme and a full-fledged seafarers department at the KMA,” said nautical advisory services official Andrew Mwangura.

Mr Mwangura who is a former general secretary of the Seafarers Union of Kenya (SUK) said there was also need to establish a dedicated directorate of maritime educatioln and training (MET) at the KMA, an open ship registry, a structured seafarers training programme, seafarers training fund and the enactment of a cabotage law.

Mwangura suggested that Lamu Port should be designated as a home port for the Ethiopian National Shipping Line to boost business and also provide cadet training opportunities for Kenyan seafarers.

“Kenya needs ships for training its cadet officers and Ethiopia, with several ships based at Djibouti Port, can use Lamu as its home port,” Mwangura explained.

Another veteran seafarer Albert Adembesa urged KMA to enforce the Safety of Life at Sea (Solas) for Mombasa port workers, particularly those hired by ship contractors on a short term basis.

According to Adembasa, the Solas convention introduced by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and ratified by member states must be fully enforced at the port to reduce incidences of death and injury among workers.