Mombasa — Kenya's efforts to position the blue economy sector as a key driver of the country's transformation today received a major boost with the commissioning of the Bandari Maritime Academy in Mombasa County.
President Kenyatta led hundreds of maritime sector stakeholders at the ceremony during which he announced a raft of reforms the government is undertaking to secure both local and international seafaring jobs for Kenyan youth.
The President said the new institution will be key in equipping young Kenyans with the requisite skills and knowhow to enable them compete favourably for employment opportunities in the vast blue economy sector.
"The Academy is expected to become a top supplier of world class seafarers for shipping lines all over the world," the President said.
As a pointer to its strategic importance to the country's economy, Bandari Maritime Academy will partner with the Kenya Utalii College, the Kisumu Maritime Centre and also establish twinning arrangements with the Mediterrranean Shipping Company (MSC) Training Academy based in Naples, Italy.
"I am confident that the enhanced training will bring out the best in our talented young people," said President Kenyatta.
The transformation of the college into a centre of excellence in maritime training and research is envisaged to facilitate the country's quest to reap maximum benefits from the blue economy sector, an agenda that the President has given undivided attention.
It is estimated that blue economy, if properly harnessed, has the potential to inject up to 4.8 billion US dollars to Kenya's economy and create over 52,000 jobs in the next 10 years.
At the ceremony, the President announced the revival of the Kenya National Shipping Line (KNSL) and witnessed the signing of a new shareholding agreement between KNSL, Kenya Ports Authority and the MSC aimed at restoring the state corporation into a world class shipping company.
"The shareholding agreement we have signed today, marks the beginning of our well thought out plan to transform the Kenya National Shipping Line into a world class shipping line, over the next ten years," the President announced.
He said MSC, the second largest shipping line in the world, which has been a strategic partner with the KNSL since 1997 will assist in re-engineering KNSL into a world class entity.
"The Agreement we have just signed will, thus, deepen this partnership and enable the MSC, to more effectively support the revival of the Kenya National Shipping Line," he said.
KNSL was established in 1987 as a national carrier to handle containerized export and import freight cargo, to and from ports in Kenya. It however failed to to grow into an effective national carrier.
"We are here to revive that vision. The revival of the Kenya National Shipping Line will enable Kenya to benefit from the regional and global maritime transport value chain. About 90 percent of Kenya's foreign trade is dependent on maritime transport," said the President.
He said taking part in our own maritime transport services will enhance the contribution of the sector to the national economy and make the cost of our goods more competitive.
President Kenyatta said since the launch of the Kenya Coast Guard Service (KCGS) in November last year to secure Kenya's territorial waters and protect the country from threats emanating from the sea, the unit has made good progress.
"The Coast Guard Service has maintained daily patrols of Kenya's waters to guard against illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, provided safety to seafarers, and prevented drug smuggling and other illegal movement of people and goods," he said.
President Kenyatta said the government is rebuilding and upgrading the fishing infrastructure at the coast region as part of efforts to expand its economic base.
He expressed satisfaction that even before the rehabilitation of the Liwatoni Fisheries Complex is complete, there are already 12 Kenyan fishing vessels that are utilizing the facility.
"And more exciting is that close to 400,000 metric tonnes of fish have landed since the facility was re-opened in November. This may appear small but it is a significant step towards the recovery of thousands of jobs for our fishermen," said President Kenyatta.
To boost the fishing industry, the President announced government plans to develop designated fishing ports at the coast, facilitate landing of fish by deep sea fishing vessels and finance aquaculture technology and innovation transfers.
He said the goal of the incentives is to position the country globally as a nation that is harnessing its ocean resources in a sustainable manner for the benefit of current and future generations.
"We are, indeed, emerging in the world as a rising maritime nation," the President said.
President Kenyatta said that after successfully hosting the blue economy global conference in Nairobi last year, Kenya will in June next year co-host the UN World Ocean Conference with Portugal in Lisbon.
At the same event, the President saw off 62 trainee seafarers out of the 119 that have been recruited by MSC. Forty of the recruits have already been assigned a vessel for their 'sea time' exposure by the company while the others are awaiting their opportunity.
President Kenyatta had a chance to interact with some 16 seafarers that he dispatched last November whom he said "have become the pride of Kenya" for serving in foreign countries with diligence, commitment and integrity.
The 16 included Kenya's first female marine pilot Elizabeth Wakesho Marami.
"Well done Elizabeth and your fellow seafarers. Kenya is proud of you," he told the young Wakesho who spoke on behalf of her colleagues.
He told the new cohort of seafarers to emulate the first batch by becoming Kenya's ambassadors in the sea and help re-establish the reputation of Kenyan seamen and women as trustworthy and hardworking professionals.
"Such a reputation will attract more companies to recruit from Kenya," the President said.