While Kenya urgently needs to invest in training facilities for its seafarers who remain disadvantaged in the international shipping industry, it is important for the government and stakeholders to consider options that are rational and efficient to realise this goal.
The Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) is seeking a staggering Sh8.31 billion from the Treasury to set up a specialised training institution for the seamen. It hopes the proposal will be approved in the 2015/16 budget.
The proposal comprises four main elements: land for the school, site infrastructure and facilities, a training vessel and a training fund. According to the KMA plan, out of the Sh8.3 billion, some Sh2 billion will go into buying land, developing infrastructure and acquiring training facilities for the proposed National Maritime College.
Another Sh4 billion is earmarked for buying and operating a small training ship for the institution while Sh1.31 billion will be set aside as seafarers’ training fund to, among other things, finance the hiring of foreign instructors.
But why should the nascent body want to spend so much money in setting up an entirely new tertiary institution when other more cost effective and sustainable options are available?.
One such option would be to develop the Technical University of Mombasa (TUM), which many feel would be a natural home for such maritime programmes.
For one, TUM is a progeny of the Mombasa Institute of Muslim Education , which was the first school in Kenya to start sea training way back in 1951, years before it became Mombasa Technical Institution immediately after independence and later changed to Mombasa Polytechnic in the early 1980s.
The maritime programmes collapsed but TUM has recently revived some of the programmes and even invested heavily on equipment such as sea navigation simulators like those used in the training of pilots.
When TUM was chartered three years ago, part of its mandate in the establishment statute was to fill gaps in the training of maritime engineers and other nautical programmes in certificate, diploma, degree and post- graduate studies.
Is this not a duplicity? How long would a completely new venture take to complete? What if it becomes another white elephant? Considering that maritime occupations are not mass career like engineering or business , what if enrolment becomes unviable?
The KMA Act establishing the body endows it with a wide mandate which includes regulating commercial shipping, maritime security and inland waterways navigation, among others.
Besides seafarers training, two other issues remain salient. These include the fate of the Kenya National Shipping Line that is tottering on the brink of collapse and the establishment of an international maritime search and rescue centre in Mombasa.
For the rescue centre, the status of a piece of land that had been set aside for it along Mbaraki Road remains a mystery. The nearest such centres are in Oman and in South Africa.
On the question of KNSL, the Kenya government has no merchant ships of its own. The KNSL merely continues to operate as a Non Vessel Operating Common Carrier (NVOCC) under the umbrella of the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) Lines, and there is no hope that MSC will allow KNSL to rise up and operate its own ships.