Nine lobster fishermen arrested at sea over flouting ‘Michuki rules’

Lamu fishermen on a fishing boat , 9 fishermen have been arrested in the ongoing Michuki rules crackdown PHOTO COURTESY

Lamu, KENYA: Nine lobster diver fishermen have been arrested in the ongoing crackdown and reinforcement of traffic rules and transport safety in Lamu.

They were nabbed by marine police officers on Wednesday in a move that has sparked outrage from locals and leaders.

Police said their major crime was failing to wear protective gear that includes life jackets and diving masks before venturing into the ocean bed in search of the lobster and hence endangering their lives.

Unlike many parts of Kenya where traveling and movement of people and goods is done by road, much of Lamu’s transport consists of boat travels at sea.

Speaking in his office on Wednesday,Lamu County Commissioner Joseph Kanyiri said any person plying the Indian Ocean be it for travel or adventure of any kind without adhering to maritime safety rules that includes wearing safety gear while at it will be promptly arrested by the navy and marine police officers who have been deployed to ensure sanity in the ocean.

Kanyiri said there was a need for people to understand that any transport avenue has rules governing movement and traffic and that there is a need for people to observe them.

“In Lamu much of our transport happens at sea and so that means we are taking the enforcement of safety traveling right into the ocean. If you are plying the ocean for whichever reason, be it fishing or traveling and you fail to adhere to set rules, you shall be arrested for endangering either your own life or that of others,” said Kanyiri.

However, locals and county leaders feel the arrest of fishermen in the ongoing enforcement of the Michuki rules is unwarranted and doesn’t make sense.

Speaking shortly upon receiving reports on the arrest of the lobster fishermen in Lamu on Wednesday, Lamu governor Fahim Twaha and Lamu East MP Athman Shariff asked that fishermen be exempted from the crackdown.

Governor Twaha said it was outrageous to arrest a fisherman who is going about his business in the ocean with the same assumption unruly road drivers were being arrested for.

“It’s outrageous, we understand the need for maritime safety but you can’t compare fishermen here and drivers on the road. These people have been doing this for decades and we believe is there is a need to foster maritime safety for fishermen, then there are better ways to do it than arresting them. We want the lobster fishermen released and allowed to back to their venture,” said Twaha.

Lamu East MP Athman Shariff wondered why police would shift focus from roads and concentrate on arresting lobster fishermen when the real culprits were on the roads.

The MP called for immediate release of the fishermen and asked that police revise their mandate in the reinforcement of the Michuki rules.

“We know there is a need for safety but still I don’t understand who Michuki rules apply to the arrest of lobster fishermen. It just doesn’t click. They should be out there on the roads arresting those drivers and touts who have unroadworthy vehicles. This whole thing should exempt fishermen not just as a favor but simply because the Michuki rules don’t apply on the Indian Ocean,” said Shariff.

Outraged residents termed the arrest of the lobster fishermen as pure harassment by police.

Athman Shee, a lobster fisher said “To catch lobster, we have to dive underwater for several minutes.That’s how we have done this for decades, no single lobster fisherman here has what they want us to wear and even then, such things are too expensive for us to afford. We have trained ourselves how to go about and that’s why in the many years we have been doing this, not a single lobster fisherman had died while at it.