Kenya’s first oceanographic survey ship, RV Mtafiti, has embarked on a five-day cruise along the South Coast. The Sh3.5 billion ship is fitted with advanced equipment that can detect marine resources. The ship, which was donated to the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (Kemfri) by the Belgian government in 2014, embarked on its third sea voyage on Monday after it was fitted with the new gadgets at Seco dockyard at the Mombasa port.

Kemfri Chief Executive Officer James Njiru said the national government had spent Sh30 million on upgrading the vessel. Dr Njiru said the money was also used to buy advanced navigational equipment (eco-sounders) and meteorological sensors. “During this five-day cruise, manufacturers of the equipment from Kongsberg Maritime PLC based in the Netherlands shall be calibrating the equipment and once the control station is functional, it will be all systems go as the vessel does its survey work,” he said

Eco-sounders are a type of sound, navigation and ranging device used on ships as part of an instrument placed underwater to help locate fish from deep sea vents in the water and find where the sea bed is. Edward Kimani, Kemfri’s assistant director in charge of fisheries, said the equipment would also gather bathymetry data for the topography of the ocean up to a depth of 10km. This would replace the conventional method of fish and count with more efficiency and accuracy in collected data. RV Mtafiti can accommodate 47 scientists and 29 crew members.

Njiru reckoned that Kenya has not fully exploited its maritime resources because little is known about it, adding that the “new vessel will help us know the hidden treasures of the marine ecosystem and boost our economic prospects”. He said the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles into the Indian Ocean with immense marine resources had not been fully explored and utilised due to lack of “deep-ocean floating research platform that is of interest to scientists”.

He said with the state-of-the-art vessel, the country was now in a better position to utilise its huge maritime resources. Njiru was accompanied by Renison Ruwa, and Abraham Kagwima, directors at Marine and Coastal Systems and Freshwater Systems respectively. Njiru said Kenya had huge potential in the blue economy. “RV Mtafiti will now help us to venture deep into the sea to survey the rich oceanic expanse,” he said. “This vessel dedicated to marine research will help us understand the quality and quantity of marine resources we have as a country in the ocean.”

Njiru said Kemfri was committed to the management of marine and aquatic spaces, resources and environment to drive the blue economy. “Blue economy involving all those economic activities that take place in the ocean is the new frontier of African renaissance and in Kenya, we hope the survey ship will help us tap into the ocean,” he said. It is estimated that Kenya’s marine fishery has the potential to produce 150,000 to 300,000 metric tonnes of fish annually.

Only 9,000 metric tonnes was produced last year. Njiru said Kemfri was in the process of buying off-shore patrol vessels to block foreign trawlers conducting illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing in Kenya’s territorial waters. Njiru added that details were being worked out to ensure RV Mtafiti gets civilian staff to man it.

Currently, officers deployed from the Kenya Navy are in charge of its navigational command. “It is just a matter of time before we hire our own civilian crew to man this vessel. But at the moment we are content to work with the navy who have exhibited high level of professionalism in guiding this vessel out on its sea sojourns,” he said