Marine experts, fishermen ask court to halt Sh2.5 trillion Lapsset project

A five-judge bench on Monday began hearing a petition challenging the Lapsset project.

The petition was filed by fisherman Mohamed Ali on grounds that there are no proper plans for mitigating the project’s environmental effects.

Three of the five witnesses in the case urged the court to issue orders for the suspension of the Sh2.5 trillion project until the government deals with threats to marine life.

Mohamed Somo (Lamu BMU chairman), Francis Dyer (Lamu tourist association chair) and David Obura (marine biologist) testified at Malindi law courts.

The case is being heard by Justices John Mativo, Jaden Thuranira, Pauline Nyamweya, Joel Ngugi and Joseph Onguto. The judges earlier rejected an application to hear a fourth witness, an expert based in Oregon USA, who was to testify via a video link.

The petitioner’s lawyers are Waikwa Wanyoike, Lempa Suyiank and Christine Nkonge while the respondents are the Attorney General, Kenya Ports Authority and the National Environment Management Authority.

Wanyoike said the case was brought before the court by Lamu residents through Ali, interested parties, Lamu residents and the general public.

“The case is about the haphazard way the government has conceptualised and executed the Lapsset project,” he said. “The government conceptualised the project without fundamental consideration on its viability.”

He told the court the government cannot produce evidence to prove to Kenyans that the project is viable.

Wanyoike further argued that the government did not consider the impact, cultural, and environmental when it started the project.

“The project started without a licence and never considered the issues of climate change.”

Somo told the five-judge bench that the ongoing construction of the Lapsset corridor has violated their rights to cultural life.

He said fishermen were not involved and revealed that the project has distorted the heritage of Lamu Island, which is a UNESCO world heritage site.

“The dredging at the Indian Ocean for the construction of Lamu port has destroyed mangrove forests, sea grass, and coral reefs,” he said.

“Since the dredging started, the number of fish has gone down despite the fact that it is the main economic activity for locals.”

“We have not been involved in the project since 2012 when the project started,” the fisherman said, adding they have not been compensated for fishing areas destroyed by the project.

Somo said recommendations for bigger vessels, by marine experts from the Coastal Oceans and Research Development, had not been considered.

Obura said the project area is home to rare marine species such as turtles and dudong (sea cow) which which have not been seen for the last 70 years.

“I have studied the ocean terrain. The coral reefs at the seabed are under threat of destruction due to water pollution and dredging activity.”

Obura further said that between 1994 and 1995, the ocean water was clear and one could observe marine life with ease.

“But it has turned brown due to siltation caused by the dredging activity. If all factors are allowed to continue without committal, Manda Bay will be polluted. This will have effects on tourism,” he said.

He said the project’s environmental impact assessment had little details with no real discussions on the levels of impact and mitigation hierarchy.

“There is no guarantee on how the impacts are low, medium or high, Land reclamation destroys marine life,” Obura said.

He said the coral reefs, mangroves, and other marine lives can be replanted once the dredging activity is complete.

However, he said replanting of mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs is not a guarantee they will come back to their original status.

Dyer, another witness, said NEMA was to go from village to village to train residents on the project’s impact on the environment.

He said UNESCO made recommendations on fishing plans, planting mangroves, the need to survey coastal morphology.

The world body also vouched for the protection of the universal value of Lamu to include tourism and culture.

The judges adjourned the hearing to Wednesday when the court will visit the construction site.

Story by ALPHONCE GARI @alphonce2011

This article originally appeared on the website of the Star newspaper and they hold all rights to the content. Here is a link to the original content



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