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Not a single foreign trawler has registered in Kenya this year due to the pirate attacks that hit a record high last year.
The chief fisheries officer at the Marine and Coastal Fisheries Directorate, Mwaka Barabara, said that some of these vessels that have in the past used Kenya’s Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) have shifted to South Africa, Atlantic and Pacific Ocean.
Those vessels that have not been relocated to other regions are likely to be dismantled and sold as scrap, a maritime expert said.
According to the managing director of the East African Deep Fishing Ltd, Jose Gonzalez, operating in the East African part of the Indian Ocean has become a huge challenge for fishermen due to pirates.
The company operates MV Sakoba which was hijacked by pirates with 10 Kenyan fishermen on board, grounding its operations. The company, Mr Gonzalez said, does not process any fish for the local market but exports to the European Union, largely Portugal, Italy and Spain.
The pirates are now demanding $7 million for ransom although the negotiations are going on according to Mr Andrew Mwangura, the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme spokesman.
Since last year, pirates have become more sophisticated and have identified new locations for ambushing ships that are over 1000 nautical miles off the Somali coast, which was not possible three years ago.
In 2008, 16 warships were deployed off the Somali coast to check the pirates. The pirates have since moved many of their operations further south, targeting ships as they come out of the Mozambique Channel. Added to the challenges of the long Somali coast line, policing the region has become a huge challenge to the warships.
Last year recorded the highest number of attacks, which became more violent across the globe, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said in a report.
Off the coast of lawless Somalia, the number of cases nearly doubled at 217 incidents, with 47 vessels hijacked and 867 crew members taken hostage.
Ms Mwaka said that Kenya may not register any vessels this year since based on past experience, the vessels are registered by March.
“Last year, we registered 14 vessels which was a big drop compared to three years ago when we registered over 80 when the problem of pirates was not widespread as today,” she said.
The large fishing vessels are registered for up to $20,000 per year.
Kenya does not have the capacity to offer surveillance over the fishing vessels, either protecting then from the attacks or ensuring that they employ the required standards. The country relies on the navy to protect its territorial waters, which based on its nature of work concentrates on national security and not civilian roles, Ms Mwaka said.
The Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute director, Johnson Kazungu, added that the biggest challenge facing the country on managing its water resources was how to police the vast territorial waters.
“The government is now planning to come up with a special unit that will be used to enforce fishing rules and offer surveillance to our territorial waters,” Ms Mwaka said.
Unless Kenya invests in deep see going fishing vessels, the country risks losing the opportunity of exploiting over 150,000 metric tonnes of marine fish. Today, there is not a single vessel owned by Kenyans that can exploit deep sea waters.
The little domestic fishing occurs in the areas outside the fringe of the coastal reef up to the outer boundary of 20 nautical miles of the country’s EEZ due to inferior fishing gears used by the local fishermen.
Some of the big processors in Mombasa rely on the fish from foreign vessel. Some fish species such as Tuna, which are found in deep seas, also find their way into the local market through these foreign vessels.
“The situation is very bad for us since we no longer own fishing vessels and we may result to import our fish requirements,” an officer working for one of the big processors who cannot be named since he is not authorised to speak to the media said.
“Those ones that do not meet our standards are sold to local fishmongers which we have not been able to do since last year,” he said, adding that the price of certain species of fish such as tuna have increased twofold.
Poor policing has also seen Kenya territorial waters get exploited by illegal fishing by vessels not registered in Kenya. Kenya and 90 other nations struck a deal and endorsed a final text of a new treaty aimed at locking their sea ports to vessels engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
PARASTATAL heads who signed the Mombasa port community charter risk being sacked if their agencies do not deliver on the contents of the new entity. The charter signed between the government and the private sector aims at improving the movement of cargo from the port into hinterland