Pirates operate at will in Lake Victoria, wreaking havoc on fishermen and travellers, a maritime expert has warned.”There have been hundreds of acts of piracy on fishermen in the lake as war lords have virtually declared independence on some of the islands,” charged a maritime safety and security officer, Mr Gervas Fumbuka, at a meeting of police chiefs in East Africa.
He said the pirates have taken advantage of police laxity to patrol the lake in the absence of motor boats to track down the criminals, adding that passengers now fear of being hijacked while travelling in the lake as pirates sometimes pretend to be passengers.”Cases of people missing in Lake Victoria have become common.
Sometimes boats stolen are never found,” he told the police chiefs meeting in Arusha ahead of a ministerial meeting session on Peace and Security matters in Arusha tomorrow (Saturday).
Mr Fumbuka, who is in charge of marine safety and security in the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC), said the growth of piracy, robbery and insecurity in the lake threatens the interests of the East African Community (EAC) partner states and people dependent on the lake for transport and fisheries.”What remains doubtful is the extent to which spontaneous responses to piracy, robbery and insecurity in the region can address the problem in a sustainable manner,” he pointed out.
The official warned that increasing incidences of piracy can impact negatively on trade and tourism, insisting that “Trade relies primarily on lake transport and any disruption thereof would result in late delivery of goods or non-delivery at all.”This would lead to a rise in the prices of commodities including fish, food and fuel thus affecting the economies of the riparian states and the EA bloc as a whole.
There had been numerous pleas by the people living in the lake to take action against the escalating cases of piracy. However, there has not been sufficient data on the piracy incidences in the vast shared water body covering 69,000 square kilometres although the official disclosed that recently rouges murdered 14 fishermen at one small island in Tanzania. Many of the suspects are still at large, according to him.Six deaths of Ugandan fishermen was reported in 2000 alone during which boats, boat engines and nets were stolen.
Similar incidents were reported on the Ugandan side of the lake in September 2009 followed by similar robberies on the Tanzanian waters in February 2010. LVBC, an institution of the EAC based in the lakeside Kisumu City in Kenya, has proposed the setting up of a maritime patrol unit which would work in collaboration with the newly-to-be-established Lake Victoria Maritime Rescue Centre. Mr Fumbuka said although Lake Victoria was an important economic zone in East Africa, especially because of maritime transport and fisheries it has emerged as a dangerous place for fishing vessels and their crew because of the pirate attacks on the high waters as well as the islands.
Speaking on the sidelines of the police heads’ meeting at the Arusha International Conference Centre (AICC) on Wednesday, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr Saidi Mwema, said EA states should share intelligence on fighting crime, and to undertake joint operations. He said joint operations by Kenya and Tanzania enabled the arrest of key suspects of last year’s terrorist bombing in the Ugandan capital. Most of those apprehended have been charged in court. He said prosperous EA needs peace and security, adding that the Cabinet has endorsed a wide-ranging reforms on the police force which aim to trim it down, equip it with the modern crime-fighting gear and make it more professional.
The Kenya‘s Commissioner of Police, Mr Mathew Iteere, said his country supported Tanzania‘s offer to appoint an officer who would liase on matters pertaining to the police and crime fighting efforts at the EAC secretariat in Arusha. Earlier, the meeting was told that the proposal had been turned down because there was no Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the five member countries on the matter although Tanzania had offered to station one of its senior police officers at EAC at its own cost ” We should take up that offer and if MoU is deemed necessary we should have one on that,” he said.
A representative of the Uganda Inspector General of Police, Major General Kale Kayihura, who could not make it to Arusha, observed that regional integration was paying off with increased cooperation between the EAC member states on security matters. “There has been positive development in police cooperation.We have had very close ties also at the level of chiefs of police at operational level,” he told delegates at the opening session.