Lamu’s ‘no petrol station’ rule leaves boat operators in agony

One of the floating petrol stations in Lamu PHOTO NATASHA NEMA

Lamu, KENYA: Boat operators operating in Lamu are living in agony due to the shortage of floating petrol stations.

Boat operators plying far-flung islands like Faza, Kizingitini, Mkokoni, Kiwayu and as far as areas on the Lamu-Somalia border like Kiunga and Ishakani say they go through hell whenever they run out of fuel midway in their voyages.

The operators are now calling for the establishment of fuel stations on all major transport routes in the Indian Ocean to enable them to fuel up whenever their vessels run out of fuel midway.

Lamu only has five floating boat petrol fuel stations all of which are located in the Indian Ocean waters in Lamu town.

This means boats only get to fuel once they are in Lamu town.

Petrol station owners have been banned from operating within the Lamu Old town and have been asked to only operate in the waters so as to minimize any losses in case of a fire outbreak.

Other petrol stations can only be found on the mainland in areas like Mpeketoni, Hindi, Mokowe, and Witu all of which cannot come in handy to boat operators operating on various routes in the Ocean.

Boat operators plying long distances in the Ocean say the lack of fuel stations along their routes in the Indian Ocean is proving challenging whenever they run out of fuel before reaching their destinations as they forced to either call for help from other boats if the network allows or stay afloat until someone comes to their rescue, which they termed dangerous amidst the rough tides frequently witnessed.

Ahmed Omar,a long distance boat operator plying Lamu town and Mtangawanda island in Lamu East said as operators, they have proposed the establishment of fuel stations at Manda Bruno area, Mtangawanda, Mkokoni, Kiwayu,Ndau and Kiunga areas to see to it that their vessels are able to fuel up whenever they run out.

Omar says the fact that all fuel stations are only located in Lamu town only favors short distance operators plying close proximity areas like Manda Airport, Mokowe, Shella, Matondoni and Kipungani.

“When your vessel runs out of fuel midway, we are forced to call for more from as far as Lamu and you must pay for the delivery too which very expensive. In worst case scenarios, some routes have no phone network coverage so even calling becomes impossible and we have to sit in the ocean and wait until someone passes by to assist. We want fuel stations along all routes used so this menace can stop, “said Omar.

The only relief these boat operators have is to try and gauge the amount of fuel required for their journeys and fuel accordingly.

However Yusuf Kupi, another long distance boat operator says that has proved inaccurate on many occasions leaving them stranded in the ocean.

“You think you have enough fuel for your journey but end up running out and get stuck somewhere in the middle of the ocean. thats risky. You can imagine a boat full of people running out of fuel at deadly channels like Manda Bruno,Mlango wa Tanu,Mlango wa Bomani and the rest. It’s deadly and scary and no one wants to be in that situation.

Petrol station owners who spoke said they wouldn’t dare go that way since setting up stations along those routes is not only risky but technical.

However, the ban on petrol stations has not only affected the boat operators.

Ali Twalib who owns a number of the floating stations in Lamu town says that the cost of operating a floating petrol station is expensive hence it hinders them from venturing elsewhere.

“Just getting a license is a real hassle. They take you in circles and even when you get it, there are so many restrictions you have to adhere to. I personally wouldn’t dare go beyond here to set up fuel stations.