By Philip Mwakio

Fishing boats along Lamu Island’s seafront in Lamu County.[Maarufu Mohamed, Standard]

Lamu fishermen have vowed to continue plying their trade along the rich Kiunga fishing grounds regardless of the verdict of the Kenya-Somalia maritime dispute.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) was yesterday expected to rule on the dispute over the triangular area measuring 62, 000 square kilometres.

Kenya has however said it will not recognise the ruling and vowed to protect its borders whatever the outcome. The disputed area is rich in fish.

Locals in Lamu said the nation’s food and nutrition security, tourism sector and shipping activities are under threat should the ICJ rule against Kenya.

Speaking to the media today in Amu Island, Save Lamu Vice-Chairman Ishaq Abubakar urged the government not to accept cede ground even after the ruling terming the ICJ as a colonialist enterprise aimed at destabilising Kenya’s territorial integrity.

Flanked by a section of beach management unit officials from across Lamu, the activist further raised concerns that the fishermen are likely to lose out on fishing grounds within the Kiunga area, with more than 50,000 households who directly benefit from the fishing sector, likely to be affected.

“Our fishing grounds which have been the mainstay of many Lamu families over decades are now under threat over the maritime dispute between Kenya and Somalia,” he stated, adding that 80 percent of the county’s catch comes from the disputed area,” said Abubakar.

He said that fishermen currently enjoy improved security without fears of piracy or Al-Shabaab due to improved KDF and Kenya navy presence which has aided the fishing industry in Lamu to continue exploring its Blue economy potential.

Sentiments echoed by Lamu Beach Management Unit Network Chairman Somo Mohammed Somo stated that there is need for a quick resolution to be reached to ensure that Kenyan waters are not affected.

“Not only is 80 percent of Lamu’s economy dependent on the blue economy sector, but 65 percent of Lamu’s rich fishing grounds are based in the disputed maritime waters of Kiunga area,” he stated.

The fishermen association official also said that a resolution is needed to ensure that the fishing industry is not affected, adding that there are fears of a military standoff between the two countries if a resolution is not reached soon.

On his part, Lamu County Commissioner Irungu Macharia called for calm stating that regardless of the ICJ verdict it will continue to be business as usual along the maritime area in question.

“Fishermen can take heart in the fact that the national government will not cede its territorial waters to Somalia under any circumstances,” he said, adding that Kenya will still protect its waters and its people along the disputed area.

He stated that the national government had already put in place measures to ensure that apart from the fishermen being protected, the LAPSSET project as well as the conservancies such as the Kiunga and Dodori National Marine Reserves will continue to be protected by the Kenyan government.

Kenya Marine Forum Chairman Mohammed Athman further stated that the maritime dispute is due to capitalist interests trying to override the cordial Kenya-Somalia relations that the two countries have enjoyed over the years.

“The interests of some investors are trying to compromise the relations that the two neighbours enjoy because of the oil and gas blocks that are at the heart of this dispute over the maritime sector,” he stated.

Kenya and Somalia have for the past seven years been involved in a bitter diplomatic tiff after the Horn of Africa nation alleged to have auctioned off oil, gas and mineral blocks falling within the disputed maritime territory.

Ever since the maritime standoff gained traction, Kenya has maintained that it would prefer to resolve the boundary issue out of court, while Somalia wants the case to be heard by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), with the ruling expected later today.

Source: The Standard

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