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Lamu boat operators down tools over 'harsh' KMA rules

Wednesday June 12 2019

Lamu boat operators strike

Stranded passengers are pictured in Lamu on June 12, 2019, when boat operators downed their tools over harsh regulations by the Kenya Maritime Authority. PHOTO | KALUME KAZUNGU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

KALUME KAZUNGU
By KALUME KAZUNGU
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Boat operators in Lamu County downed their tools on Wednesday to protest harsh regulations imposed by the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA).

Their move saw transport paralysed on Lamu Island and the entire archipelago.

Travellers were unable to cross into and out of Lamu Old Town and surrounding areas as the operators withdrew all vessels from the Indian ocean.

They vowed to stall water transport until the KMA relaxes some of the regulations which they said had made business difficult.

HIGH CHARGES

At a recent stakeholders workshop on enforcement of Merchant Shipping Act, 2009 and subsidiary legislations, the authority stressed the need for every boat operator or owner to adhere to all maritime rules and regulations for efficient water transport and safety.

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But in an address to journalists on Wednesday, the boat operators said the KMA was forcing owners and operators to remit Sh70,000 as training fees for those joining maritime colleges and another Sh 15,000 for every coxswain operating a vessel in the ocean.

Led by Lamu Boat Operators Association Deputy Chairman Mohamed Yassin, they said the requirements were too costly.

“We will not be ready to operate our vessels unless the KMA lifts the harsh requirements it has imposed," said Mr Yassin.

"[The charges are] too high for a regular coxswain. They should change their stand."

Lamu boat operators strike

Lamu boat operators address journalists on June 12, 2019, when they downed their tools over harsh regulations by the Kenya Maritime Authority. PHOTO | KALUME KAZUNGU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

AWARENESS

Boat operator Faraj Skanda noted the need for the KMA to engage them before making any decision.

Mr Skanda accused the authority of segregation and "waking up to introduce new rules without seeking consultation from coxswains who are directly affected".

“They just organise meetings and formulate laws and regulations without consulting us. They impose the laws without creating any form of awareness," he said.

EFFECTS

Travellers who were interviewed by the Nation asked authorities to end the stalemate transport activities resume.

Mr Fredrick Mbaabu said he had to cancel his journey to Mpeketoni as he could not find a ferry to take him to the Mokowe mainland.

“I had a meeting in Mpeketoni but I was forced to cancel it as there was no boat," he said.

Mrs Jacinta Wamboi said she was worried that the stalemate would affect trade and social activities in Lamu.

“They should solve the issue quickly since the protests have already affected businesses," said Mrs Wamboi.

Lamu boat operators strike

Boats are pictured in Lamu on June 12, 2019, when operators stopped operations over harsh regulations by the Kenya Maritime Authority. PHOTO | KALUME KAZUNGU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

SAFETY KEY

In response, however, KMA Director-General Major (Rtd) George Okong’o dismissed the allegations that the agency was taking cash, in any form, from the coxswains.

Mr Okong’o stressed the need for boat operators to adhere to all maritime rules and regulations while at sea.

He noted that the aim of the agency is to regulate, coordinate and oversee the maritime sector for the benefit of all Kenyans.

Mr Okong’o further said the agency had been conducting empowerment campaigns for sea users in Kisumu, Mombasa, Lamu and other parts of Kenya in a bid to improve safety.

“We have been organising trainings with various stakeholders across the country and engaging them on matters to do with marine safety," he said.

"We have also been inspecting vessels in the entire country to ensure they adhere to all rules and regulations. My appeal to Lamu water users is to understand that their safety is paramount. That’s why we will not relent in our stand on efficient water transport and safety."