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Kenyan Marine Institute takes delivery of ex-Belgian oceanographic research vessel

The RV Zeeleeuw now known as the RV Mtafiti.The Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) has taken delivery of a 56.6m-long oceanographic research vessel donated by the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) of Belgium.

The 'RV Zeeleeuw', which has since been renamed 'RV Mtafiti' (the Swahili word for researcher), arrived at the Kenyan Navy's Mkunguni Jetty in Mombasa mid-last week, more than 50 days after departing from the Belgian port of Ostend on a 7 000 km voyage.

In his welcoming remarks, the Principal Secretary for the Department of Fisheries Micheni Ntiba said the ship will immediately be used to conduct fisheries research and management activities within Kenya's 200 nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Among other essential services, he said the RV Mtafiti will provide timely and adequate information on fish stocks and up-to-date oceanographic data. Ntiba said in line with fulfilling its mandate of protecting Kenyan marine resources within the EEZ, the Department of Fisheries will soon take delivery of a 52 metre Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) which will be deployed to fight the worsening problem of illegal fishing by foreign vessels on Kenyan waters.

KMFRI director Johnson Kazungu said the donation of the vessel further strengthens Kenyan collaboration with the VLIZ, which has benefited many Kenyans since its inception in 1985. “Through the linkages, some Kenyans have attained postgraduate qualifications like Master’s and PhDs (in scientific and oceanographic studies) from Belgium and several Belgian students and professors have visited Kenya to undertake joint research with their counterparts."

He said the ship will facilitate sustainable management of marine resources and support the training of marine and oceanographic scientists in the region. The Belgian institute has deployed personnel to support the vessel's scientific operations, including delivering and installing equipment on board as well as the training of staff and students on how to use the equipment.

Apart from being the first of its kind in the region, the RV Mtafiti is also the first permanent maritime research platform to be stationed on the Indian Ocean East African coast between Somalia and Mozambique. Flanders Marine Institute Director Jan Mees said the vessel will also be used in research of large marine ecosystems of the East African coast.

"In this regard it will contribute to priority themes, identified by African Member States of the Inter-Governmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), including coastal erosion, pollution, sustainable use of living resources, management of key habitats and ecosystems and tourism.

“In this vast region (East Africa) approximately 55 million people are dependent on the (Indian Ocean) coast and sea for their food, work and safety. In this context, research can now be conducted in order to document the biodiversity, the fishing and aquaculture, the threats due to climate changes and over-exploitation. The use of a research ship also allows, for the first time, research to be carried out regarding the impact of foreign industrial ships on the Kenyan coasts.”

Powered by two ABC 6MDXC engines with 1192 kW, the RV Mtafiti can cruise to a maximum of 14.5 knots while carrying 10 crew members and a maximum of 12 passengers. It was launched at the Belgian port of Ostend in 1977.
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