Lamu boat operators want more floating petrol stations

Boat operators in Lamu County have called for the establishment of more floating petrol stations to prevent cases of vessels running out of fuel in the middle of the ocean.

The operators said the most affected boats are those conducting long distance shipping - carrying commodities from Lamu Old Town to the far flung islands of Faza, Kizingitini, Mkokoni, Kiwayu and all the way to Kiunga and Ishakani on the border of Lamu and Somalia.

Lamu County has only five floating boat petrol stations anchored in the middle of the Indian Ocean and all of them are situated within Lamu Old Town. The other petrol stations are in the mainland areas of Mokowe, Hindi, Mpeketoni and Witu. All of these, the sailors said, cannot help them in the Lamu Indian Ocean. Boat operator Ahmed Omar said there is need for petrol stations to be established in places such as the Manda Bruno, Mtangawanda, Mkokoni, and Ndau.

Mr Omar said the Lamu Old Town floating petrol stations only favour short distance shippers, especially those operating within the Lamu Old Town to Manda Airport, Mokowe, Shella, Matondoni and Kipungani routes. “We want more floating boat petrol stations to be anchored along the various routes in the Indian Ocean. It is very hard for us to find petrol once our vessels run out of the commodity along the way,” said Mr Omar.

“Many times, we are forced to send someone to get petrol in Lamu. That’s costly. We want such stations anchored on certain places which can be easily accessed once our boats run out of petrol.” Yusuf Kupi, a coxswain plying the Lamu Old Town-Ndau route, said although they gauge the amount of fuel needed to reach their destination, unforeseen circumstances make them to run out of fuel.

“We are forced to gauge the amount of petrol required for the journey. But sometimes this does not help. We end up suffering in the middle of the ocean for lack of petrol. The only solution is for more boat petrol stations to be established in our routes,” said Mr Kupi. Boat operator, Bwana Obbo said sometimes their vessels stall in dangerous places.

“You can imagine a vessel full of passengers and cargo running out of petrol in a place like Manda Bruno, Mlango wa Tanu, Mlango wa Bomani and other channels considered dangerous. There is no petrol station around there. Carrying extra fuel in plastics is also dangerous.”

Investors who talked to Shipping & Logistics yesterday however reiterated that establishing such petrol stations is costly plus there are many restrictions involved. “We are ready to establish such boat petrol stations anywhere they want but the problem is that establishing such stations is a bit expensive. There are also restrictions involved in running such a business,” said Said Athman.

He said acquiring a licence to run boat petrol stations in the middle of the Indian Ocean is “both technical and tiresome”. “You will be taken in circles before you’re given the licence to operate and even if you obtain the documents, you will be subjected to a number of restrictions and stresses. That is why we are a bit reluctant to establish more floating petrol station in Lamu,” said Mr Twalib.