Kenya: Lamu Boat Operators Want Night Travel Ban Lifted, Security Tightened

22 January 2019

Boat operators in Lamu County want the national government to lift the night travel ban on water transport that has been in place for the last eight years.

The ban was imposed shortly after the abduction of a British tourist couple, David Tebbutt, 58, and his wife Judith, at the Kiwayu Safari Village Resort in Lamu East in September, 2011.

Mr Tebbutt was killed and his wife taken hostage in what is believed to have been the first case of an invasion by fighters in the Al-Shabaab terror group.

Before then, Lamu, which has more than 5,000 coxswains on its islands, was a peaceful haven with no travel restrictions.


Speaking to the Nation on Tuesday, the boar boat operators noted that they were facing many challenges.

Those who cover long distances in the major shipping destinations of Lamu, including Kiunga, Mkokoni, Kiwayu, Faza, Pate and Kizingitini, said business declines every day so the government has to allow them to operate round the clock.

Mr Ahmed Kupi, a long distance operator who plies the Lamu Island-Kiunga route daily, said he did not see the need for the ban and noted that security agencies have assured safety.

"By 8pm you're not supposed to be carrying out any activities at sea. That means we are limited to one trip from Lamu Old Town to Kiunga," he said.

"We urge the government to lift the ban so we can have a 24-hour transport system. We believe that alone will boost our dwindling water transport business and restore our lost glory."


Mr Awadh Abdalla, who plies the Kiunga-Ishakani route on the border of Lamu and Somalia, asked the government to instead introduce 24-hour security surveillance at sea.

He said security officers, particularly those manning border points including Ishakani, Kiunga, Mkokoni and Kiwayu, harass those found working beyond the stipulated hours.

"We have been assured of optimal security on several occsions but the ban has never been lifted. Let it be lifted. It has greatly affected our operations," he said.

Terror attacks have not been reported at sea but many have been carried out in Lamu, where there is Boni Forest - the hideout of many of the terrorists.

Ambushes have also taken place on roads including Lamu-Garsen and Hindi-Kiunga and in villages.

Athman Fadhili, a coxswain, said, "Since 2014, when Al-Shabaab started conducting ambushes and killing people , we haven't witnessed similar incidents in the ocean. A ban on road transport is okay and should not be extended to water transport."


Another long distance boat operator, Yusuf Lule, said they were ready to invest in navigation lights for their boats provided they are allowed to travel at night.

"There is the notion that night boat transport is dangerous but we're experienced and we know how 'cool' it is. We are ready to ensure our boats are fixed with navigation lights so no accidents occur due to lack of such gadgets," said Mr Lule.

Mr Omar Ali of Mkokoni village said, "Those who made trips to places such as Kiwayu and returned the same day can't do the same today. We are restricted to making one trip so we spend a whole night at our destinations before coming back the following day. This has prevented our trade from expanding. I am confident of a boom in the water transport business once the night travel ban is lifted."

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