Tale of ships wrecked on Kenya coastline

Shipping & Logistics

Tale of ships wrecked on Kenya coastline

The East Coast of Africa is rugged and inhospitable with few safe anchorages along 4,000 miles of treacherous coral reefs and a strong northerly current. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenya could be harbouring about 36 ships wrecked along its coastline in incidents stretching hundreds of years, a new report has revealed.

The report titled ‘Troubled waters of East Africa’ details cases of shipwrecks along the Indian Ocean in Kenya.

It was compiled by veteran seafarer and maritime expert Andrew Mwangura.

Majority of the vessels wrecked along Kenya’s coastline are Portuguese naval and trading ships.

“Some of them have been under water for over 500 years while other shipwrecks have been under water for over 50 years. The most recent shipwreck in Kenyan territorial waters is the Panama flagged patrol boat Indian Ocean Explorer that ran aground at Mtongwe anchorage in early 2018,” says the report.


Portuguese frigate San Antonio de Tanna and her supply vessel was wrecked off Fort Jesus in 1697 while the Chinese merchant ship Zheng He was wrecked in 1418 off Lamu.

The oldest Portuguese wrecks are the EL REI that ran aground off Mombasa on March 8, 1500 and Nossa Senhora Da Graca that ran aground off Malindi.

The Flamenga while sailing to India struck a reef shortly after leaving Mombasa and sank in the shallow waters where most of the cargo was recovered by survivors.

The Aguia was wrecked off Mombasa with the loss of 1100 lives in 1559 while heading to Goa.

Salvacao wrecked in 1608 while entering the Port of Mombasa. San Filipe sank in 1610 near Mombasa.

Nossa Senhora Do Guadalupe was wrecked near Malindi while sailing for India on April 7, 1614 but the crew and a consignment of money in chests was saved.

Santo Amaro ran aground near the Mombasa harbour in May 1621 while heading to Goa.

Nossa Senhora Dos Remedios, while heading to Goa, was wrecked off Mombasa in 1670.

Unidentified Portuguese merchant ship wrecked off Ngomeni in 1516, and while in 1523 a Portuguese Caravel under the command of Dom Fernando de Monroy was wrecked near Malindi.

In 1920s British survey ship of Sir Frederick Jackson hit a sandbank at the entrance to the Kilifi Creek and sank. The same period also witnessed the sinking of a fishing trawler Nairobi that sank in the early 1920s off Malindi.

Other shipwrecks in Kenyan territorial waters are Highland Lassie and the Ahmadi near Mombasa harbour.

The 2017 grounding of the Tuvalu flagged oil tanker MT Theresa Arctic off Kilifi brought the number of ocean-going vessels involved in shipping accidents in East Africa in past 518 years to 200 vessels.

It means an average of one vessel sinks, disappears, burns, runs aground or suffers another type of ill fate in every three years, going by the count of 1499-2017 period.

Theresa Arctic (84040 DWT, built 1988), laden with 46,000 tonnes of vegetable oil, ran aground off Kilifi while en route from Port Keelang, Malaysia to Mombasa on June 20, this year, some 55 nautical miles north east of Mombasa.

Her engines may have broken down, leaving her without power in the middle of the high seas.

The East Coast of Africa is rugged and inhospitable with few safe anchorages along 4,000 miles of treacherous coral reefs and a strong northerly current.

Speaking in an interview with Shipping& Logistics , Mr Mwangura said over the years the region has become a ship’s graveyard to the unlucky ones, and dire warnings to those that ran aground and were subsequently refloated.

“That grounding and burning of Portugal’s Mv Galleon San Raphael in 1499 at Mtongoni, south of Tanga, set the stage for a history of maritime casualties. Seafarers have traded along this coast extending their forays up to the Far East, South East Asia, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Aden for centuries,” Mr Mwangura said.

“From the 15th century to the present day, records on maritime casualties convey some idea of the ever present hazards faced by mariners sailing in this part of Africa.”

Many shipwrecks, the report says, were due to human error and mechanical failure. Others arose when navigators underrated the forces of nature.

Mr Mwangura said early records on wrecks indicate that in the period 1499-2017, over 200 merchant and naval ships were wrecked or salvaged along the coast from Cape Guardafui in Somalia to the Mozambique Channel, a distance of about 1,400 miles.

The inland lakes including Tanganyika and Victoria have also had their fair share of casualties.

In April this year, the Nairobi Wreck Removal Convention of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) received a major boost after Canada acceded to it, bringing to 44 the number of countries that are now committed to ensuring increased safety of Kenya’s and global marine and coastal environment.

“Hazardous shipwrecks can cause many problems. Depending on its location, a wreck may be a hazard to navigation, potentially endangering other vessels and their crew,” said IMO.

“IMO’s Nairobi Wreck Removal Convention goes some way to resolving these issues. It covers the legal basis for states to remove, or have removed, shipwrecks, drifting ships, objects from ships at sea, and floating offshore installations.”

Shipping and Maritime PS Nancy Karigithu told Shipping in an interview then that the move by the Canadian government was a commitment by wealthy nations on how they can come in and assist in implementing the resolutions of the convention.

“Canada is a strong country and the move has definitely shaped and brought to the fore commitments by wealthy nations on the same. We are happy that this convention continues to get more endorsements to meet its course,” said Dr Karigithu.

On the Kenya ship wreck removal, Dr Karigithu said the country is currently in the process of updating the Merchant Shipping Act in general to give full effect to the Nairobi Convention.

“We are not silent on this and once the update of the Merchant Shipping Act is completed, then we shall have more opportunities to address it. Let us wait for the process which is currently ongoing to end,” she said.

The Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks, 2007, was adopted by an international conference held in Kenya in 2007.

It provides the legal basis for states to remove or have removed shipwrecks that may have the potential to affect adversely the safety of lives, goods and property at sea as well as the marine environment.

The convention provides a set of uniform international rules aimed at ensuring the prompt and effective removal of wrecks located beyond the territorial sea.

Dr Karigithu said the convention also includes an optional clause enabling states to apply certain provisions to their territory, including their territorial sea.

The treaty also covers any prevention, mitigation or elimination of hazards created by any object lost at sea from a ship such as lost containers.

The convention makes ship-owners financially liable and require them to take out insurance or provide other financial security to cover the costs of wreck removal. It also gives States the right of direct action against insurers.

The PS further said that any one single country alone cannot fully address the problem of abandoned vessels and wrecks alone as shipping is a global industry and global solutions are required.

Dr Karigithu further said that the convention applies to a State Party’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), an area defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as extending not more than 200 nautical miles from the baseline from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.

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