Fishermen in Lamu have petitioned a five-judge bench to suspend the construction of the multi-billion Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor project over its effects on the environment and their culture.

Lamu Beach Management Unit chairman Mohamed Somo said the project had distorted the Island’s heritage. Lamu Island is a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) world heritage site.

Somo told Justices John Mativo, Jaden Thuranira, Pauline Nyamweya, Joel Ngugi and Joseph Onguto sitting in Malindi to suspend the project until government observes guidelines on conserving marine life.

According to Somo, the ongoing dredging of the Indian Ocean in Lamu for the construction of Lamu port has destroyed mangrove forests, coral reefs which are fish and turtle nesting areas as well as sea grass.

An artistic impression of the Lamu Oil Refinery which is part of the LAPSSET project. Photo: kbctv.co.ke

This destruction of the environment, the fishermen argue, will kill their livelihoods as residents will be forced off land they have lived on for centuries.

The projects, they added could also overwhelm the popular tourist destination, where donkeys are still the main form of transport.

The LAPSSET project being spearheaded by the Kenyan government at a cost of $25.5 billion (Sh2.6 trillion) is expected to link landlocked South Sudan and Ethiopia to the Indian Ocean port of Lamu by building a key highway, a railway and oil pipeline.

“This has led to dwindling fish, has affected the cultural and socio-economic life of residents who solely depend on fishing for their livelihood,” Somo said.

Dr David Obura, a marine life biologist was among witnesses in the petition against the Attorney General, the Kenya Ports Authority and National Environmental Management Authority among other government departments linked to the project.

“Mangroves protect reefs from strong waves and are home for various rare marine species,” Dr Obura said.