Lamu port

Port workers offload cargo from a ship at the Lamu port during the official launch of the the first berth at the facility in May last year.

| File

Lapsset road works halted over attacks

The fate of the Sh2.5 trillion Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (Lapsset) road projects in Lamu hangs in the balance with contractors expressing fears over their safety following increased insecurity.

The China Communications Construction Company Ltd (CCCC) yesterday withdrew its workers from various projects in Lamu County, after eight vehicles, including trucks and excavators worth more than Sh42 million, were burnt by suspected al-Shabaab militants on Sunday.

The attack happened at Kwa Omollo Bridge near Bodhei inside Boni Forest in Lamu County.

Equipment destroyed included tippers, rollers, and excavators used in the construction of the Sh17.9 billion Lapsset access roads.

According to the firm, works on the Lamu-Garissa-Ijara road will remain suspended until the government reassures the workers of their security.

“The construction of the road, which is a critical section of the Lapsset project, has been suspended after the company suffered losses amounting to more than Sh42 million during an attack on Sunday morning,” said the company.

The mini-construction site is manned by Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers taking part in the ongoing multi-agency security Operation Amani Boni.

The ambush forced the security detail to take refuge before militants launched rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and destroyed the construction equipment, completely vandalising the site.

Since Sunday, no construction work has taken place in the area after the contractor and more than 300 workers were forced to suspend activities for fear of more attacks.

It also emerged that security authorities might have been informed of the impending attack but failed to act to prevent it.

Lamu County Commissioner Irungu Macharia said security had been improved in the area as the terrorists were being pursued.

“There are enough security officers on the ground and an operation is ongoing in the forest to pursue the attackers who destroyed the construction equipment. We won’t relent in the fight against any criminal element disturbing the peace of this place,” said Mr Macharia.

Currently, there is a massive operation to pursue the attackers believed to have fled into the dense Boni forest. To safeguard the projects, a massive crackdown targeting al-Shabaab militants has been intensified in Lamu County, following Sunday’s attack at the construction firm’s yard.

The 453-kilometre Lamu Port (Lapsset) Development Road project network started in April last year and was estimated to take 24 months to complete.

It comprises the 257-kilometre section of the Lamu-Ijara-Garissa (Lapsset Corridor) road, and a further 113-kilometre Hindi-Bodhei-Basuba-Kiunga road.

It also entails the construction of another 83-kilometre Ijara-Sanghailu-Hulugho section.

This is the third time in a year that construction companies working on Lapsset projects are suspending their works due to insecurity.

Last year, H-Young company, building the 135-kilometre Lamu-Garsen road, suspended the project for close to a month after al-Shabaab militants torched an excavator and a lorry at Milihoi, a notorious terror hotspot on the road.

Before that, CCCC had sent more than 2,000 workers on compulsory leave after the January 7, 2021, attack on the Manda-Magogoni naval and US military bases by the militants.

With the Lapsset project having been hit by delay and security challenges, it is unclear whether the projects, which, among others, included the construction of a port, power plant, railway and other facilities from the Lamu port, through to South Sudan and Ethiopia, will be completed on time.

So far, the construction of the Sh40 billion first phase of the second commercial port in Kenya at Lamu has been completed.

The second and third berths were completed in December last year, giving Kenya the opportunity to float tenders to private companies to construct 20 more berths under Public-Private Partnership.

The facility has so far employed at least 2,000 people, with about half of them being locals.

Phase 1 of Lamu Port involved construction of the first three berths and associated infrastructure, each with a depth of 17.5 metres and a length of 400 metres. The three berths are designed to handle container, general and bulk cargo.

The Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) has expressed optimism over the prospects of Lamu Port emerging as the regional trans-shipment hub following the completion of the first phase which began in 2006.

Since the port became operational in May 2021, it has so far handled nine vessels with a total of 1,619 twenty feet-equivalent units (TEUs) in its first berth.

The Sunday attack came barely days after reports were leaked that the al-Shabaab were targeting the Lapsset projects in the region.

Since the beginning of this year, the terror group has been carrying out targeted attacks on civilians and security officers.

At least 15 people, including four GSU officers, have been killed in various villages of Lamu, including Widho, Juhudi-Ukumbi, Marafa, Mashogoni, Milihoi, and Bobo-Sunkia this month alone.