Kenya: Lake Victoria Fishermen Protest KMA Safety Rules

It is Tuesday morning and a group of women from Sikri village in Lambwe Ward is preparing to board wooden boats for a journey across Lake Victoria to the market in Homa Bay Town to sell produce from their farms.

In the evening, they will make a perilous journey back home using the same means. By this time, though, the lake will be rough due to heavy winds.

Traders like to transport their bulky merchandise via the lake because it is cheaper than on the road. But coxswains are young men untrained in marine navigation, who overload their boats and travel without life jackets.

Kenya Marine Authority (KMA) now wants to ensure safety on the lake through a globally recognised training programme.

A KMA official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the training will protect the lives of travellers, saying, many people have died because of faults that could have been avoided easily by boat operators.

"The training takes 20 days and can be offered in any institution certified by KMA. Two institutions are located in Kisumu and all boat operators are required to attend classes or risk being arrested," the official told Nation.

The operators will be licensed after being trained at Sh35,000 -- an amount Beach Management Unit (BMU) chairman Edward Oremo says is out of reach for many.

He has asked MPs whose constituencies border the lake to compel KMA to review the new guidelines.

"Most fishermen live from hand to mouth. If we must all be trained on safety, the cost should be affordable," he said.

The development comes on the backdrop of recent accidents that have claimed dozens of lives.

In 2016, a boat travelling from Lihunda Beach in Ndeda Island to Bondo in Siaya County capsized and killed nine musicians, while others survived by swimming to safety. Investigations by KMA established that the boat was overloaded.

"It took in water before it sank. KMA is trying to minimise such accidents," the maritime official told Nation.

And, in November 2020, 10 traders travelling from Uganda died after their boat capsized late in the night.

KMA now wants all operators of engine-powered boats to have the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers certification, which is necessary for all seafarers. It also wants the boats to undergo safety inspection and certification.

"It's important for fishermen to also be trained on safety," the KMA official said.

A multi-agency team of officials from the Kenya Coast Guard Service, KMA and other security agencies has launched a safety drive in the lake and has arrested several fishermen and other operators using unseaworthy boats.

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