CULTURAL HERITAGE

Lack of tools hindering protection of ocean artefacts, says agency

National Museums of Kenya official believes there are more precious wrecks within the coastal line

In Summary
  • The few underwater artefacts so far been identified include the Portuguese ship wreck of the 17th century and an 18th century British warship.
  • There is also the Chinese shipwreck of the 15th century at Pezali in Manda bay, Lamu county.
National Museums of Kenya assistant director of Antiquities, Sites and Monuments in charge of the Coast region Athman Hussein.
National Museums of Kenya assistant director of Antiquities, Sites and Monuments in charge of the Coast region Athman Hussein.
Image: CHETI PRAXIDES

Lack of specialists and equipment to research and protect Kenya’s underwater heritage remains one of the biggest challenges facing the National Museums of Kenya, an official has said.  

The NMK assistant director of Antiquities, Sites and Monuments (Coast region) Athman Hussein said the situation has a seen an increase in foreign underwater cultural poachers posing as fishermen with a view to steal and sell priceless heritage to the highest bidder.

He said the high cost implications involved have made it hard to research, identify and preserve such artefacts, subsequently hindering their development.

Speaking on Sunday, Hussein said in order to try and protect Kenya’s underwater heritage and artefacts, the NMK has partnered with the Kenya Navy, marine police and the Kenya Maritime Authority to protect what is left from the poaching.

The few underwater artefacts that have so far been identified along the coastal line of Kenya include the Portuguese ship wreck of the 17th century and an 18th century British warship.

There is also the Chinese shipwreck of the 15th century at Pezali in Manda bay, Lamu county.

Others are the Old Portuguese wreck of the 16th century at Ngomeni in Kilifi county.

Hussein said there is a high possibility of more wrecks within the coastal line, but that lack of specialists and high cost of equipment makes it hard for the NMK to effectively quantify the number and location.

He said the poachers have an upper hand because many have invested in high-tech sonar equipment which enables them to easily access the ocean floor and steal Kenya’s heritage.

The museum official appealed to African nations to seriously consider Unesco's 2001 convention on the protection of the underwater cultural heritage as among the ways to deal with the situation.

“We have so much underwater cultural heritage. The challenge only lies in identification and protection or preservation,” Hussein said.

 

(edited by Amol Awuor)

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