The KNS Jasiri is the largest vessel in the Kenyan Navy fleet and also the most recently delivered. Shortly after arriving in Kenya two months ago, it was involved in military operations in neighbouring Somalia, taking part in the battle for the coastal city of Kismayo.
The KNS Jasiri has a long and troubled history. She was ordered in July 2003 at a cost of Shs4.1 billion (USD$52 million) and was supposed to be delivered in August 2005, but never arrived due to a contractual dispute between Kenya and contractor Euromarine Industries (with Spanish shipbuilder Astilleros Gondan as subcontractor). Euromarine sued the government of Kenya after payments were suspended in June 2005. The Kenyan government recalled its officers on July 18, 2005.
The 90% complete vessel was docked at the port of Ribadeo, Asturias province, Spain. In September 2006 Kenya sent a fact-finding team to Spain to investigate the KNS Jasiri. It concluded that the vessel just needed to be armed and complete sea testing and crew training before being ready for service. After years of negotiations this was eventually carried out and Kenyan sailors underwent nine months of training on the vessel prior to delivery. She was also fitted with weapons and electronic equipment before sailing for home.
After seven years of delays, the Kenyan Navy finally took delivery of the KNS Jasiri when it sailed into the port of Mombasa on 29 August. The vessel was officially welcomed by the Chief of the Kenyan Defence Forces General Julius Karangi, Kenyan Navy Commander Major General Ngewa Mukala, Kenya’s Defence Minister and the commanders of the Army and Air Force.
“This is a very unique event to welcome Jasiri and its crew who have sailed from Spain over the last few weeks. I thank the people of this country for modifying the Kenya Defence Force at great sacrifice. In return, those in uniform will live by their oath of office and defend this country. We are here because of the Kenyan people,” Karangi said at the ship’s arrival.
“Jasiri has capabilities and capacities that we did not have. If there are some people out there thinking they can come to our waters and worry us, let them know that things can get very tough for them,” he said.
Shortly after her arrival in Kenya, the KNS Jasiri took part in the battle for the Somali port city of Kismayo, which was preceded by shelling from Kenyan Navy warships throughout September, with main strikes occurring on September 25. Three days later, Kenyan troops landed in Kismayo aboard five vessels, the KNS Nyayo, KNS Umoja, KNS Galana, KNS Shujaa and of course the KNS Jasiri, while ground troops surrounded the town. The vessels also transported vehicles, ammunition and guns. Hours after Kenyan forces entered Kismayo, al Shabaab militants announced on September 29 that they had abandoned the city, their last major bastion in the five-year fight against African Union and Somali government forces.
Kenya sent its troops into Somalia last October after the rebels were blamed for carrying out a series of raids on Kenyan soil targeting its security forces as well as western tourists. The rebel group, which counts foreign al Qaeda-trained fighters among its ranks, is seen as one of the biggest threats to stability in the Horn of Africa. However, in the face of military defeat, the insurgents, who once controlled swathes of the lawless Horn of Africa country, have turned to guerrilla tactics, harrying the weak Somali government with suicide bombings and assassinations.
Kenya has of late been strengthening its navy, particularly in light of increased Somali pirate activity off its coast and its fight against Somalia-based al Shabaab militia. In August last year the Kenyan navy officially took delivery of its KNS Nyayo and KNS Umoja patrol ships, which returned from a two and a half year refurbishment by Fincantieri in Italy.
The Nyayo class vessels are fast attack craft built in Britain by Vosper Thornycroft and delivered in 1988. They are 56.7 metres long, with a displacement of approximately 450 tonnes each and can reach a maximum speed of almost 40 knots and accommodate a crew of approximately 45.
In June last year the Kenyan Navy received the patrol boat La Rieuse (renamed KNS Harambee III), which was donated by France for anti-piracy and other security duties.
Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment notes that the Kenyan Navy is the best equipped force on the East African coast and benefits from regular training exercises and assistance from the United Kingdom, United States, French and South African navies.
Its primary objective is protecting Kenya’s 500 km long coastline, particularly against the rising threat of piracy from its northern neighbour Somalia. According to Kenya’s Daily Nation, the country loses Sh37 billion (US$414 million) every year as piracy affects trade, fisheries and tourism. The Kenyan Shippers Council has estimated that piracy pushes up prices of imported goods by 10%.
As Kenya needs to provide a secure passage for ships passing through its waters, it acquired two Shupavu class large patrol boats (the Shujaa and Shupavu) from Spain in 1997 to replace and supplement its older designs. They are armed with 76 and 30 mm guns and are sent to deal with armed threats, such as pirates. However, the 480 tonne vessels have had range, serviceability and sea handling issues that limit deep water operations.
The United States has made funding available for a series of coastal surveillance improvements, including new patrol boats and coastal radar. In 2006 the US government donated Archangel class and Defender class boats to Kenya in to help combat piracy and drugs and arms trafficking.
The KNS Jasiri has a displacement of 1 400 tonne, is 85 metres long, 13 metres wide and has a maximum speed of 28 knots (50 km/h). It can carry between 60 and 81 personnel. It functions as a survey vessel as well as offshore patrol vessel.