Red alert as nuclear ship docks in Mombasa

Red alert as nuclear ship docks in Mombasa

A controversial cargo ship that is docked at the Mombasa Port is loaded with harmful nuclear waste that was intended for dumping at the coast, putting in danger the health of millions of East African residents.

The ship, MV Piraeus Voy, had disguised the cargo as padlocks and hardware items but was detained after the Ministry of Health raised concerns that it was loaded with radioactive materials.

Investigation officers have established that the nuclear waste originated in Mumbai, India, and was enroute to the neighbouring Tanzania.

“This is clearly a means of dumping dangerous substances in East Africa. We have proof what was declared is just part of the contents but the radioactive material is also in the ship and is emitting high radiations,” said a source involved in the ongoing investigations on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the press.

The investigations have further established that Inchcape, a shipping agent, is responsible for the dangerous cargo.

Exposure to high levels of radiation from nuclear waste can cause severe health effects such as skin burns and acute radiation syndrome (radiation sickness). It can also result in long-term health effects such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.

A multi-agency team of officials from different government agencies at the Mombasa port has differed on how to best handle the cargo, which was destined for the Dar es Salaam port.

“Some in the multi-agency team want the cargo returned to sender in line with maritime law but some are suggesting we release the cargo to Tanzania or open it for testing. Lets wait and see what will happen,” said the source.

The ship, said to be sailing under a Denmark flag, has in the past one month been to Kenya, Oman, India and Pakistan. At the time of the site’s last tracking of the ship on December 2, the ship was in Mumbai, India.

He added, “Our concern is, if we release the cargo, the destined country might not have adequate capacity to detect or dispose the waste hence exposing the citizens.”

The Kenya Nuclear Regulatory Authority (KNRA) yesterday confirmed it has secured the cargo ship in Mombasa, which Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe ordered quarantined on Thursday.

KNRA Director General Joseph Maina said the Authority is leading the inspection and verification of the container on board MV Seago Piraeus Voy.

“We’re in the process of deciding if to collect samples to determine the actual substance after realising there is radioactive materials on board or return the cargo to sender. We have taken all measures as we work with other agencies to ensure the public is not exposed,” said Mr Maina.

The Health CS, in the Thursday statement, said the ship “poses a serious threat to the health and lives of Kenyans by the emission of radiation”.

Mr Kagwe also ordered the director-general for health and the port health officer in Mombasa to inspect any part and any load in the ship and medically examine all the people aboard the ship.

Kenya said it will compel all those on board to answer any question asked as per sections 60 and 62 of the Public Health Act.

A a multi-agency team consisting of officials from Kenya Ports Authority, Kenyam Maritime Authority (KMA), Kenya Coast Guard Services, Port officials, immigration, Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) and those from KNRA met on Wednesday last week to discuss the issue after discovery of the hazardous cargo.

Kenya is a signatory to the Indian Ocean Memorandum of Understanding (IOMOU) that imposes international obligations to prevent, intercept, interdict and combat illicit trafficking of radioactive and nuclear material and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; having ratified international instruments.

KMA Director General, Robert Njue, said the matter is a public health concern that is now being handled by KNRA.

“KMA was informed of the container with radioactive materials on  December 15th, from a vessel on berth 21, the KPA called for a joint boarding of the vessel by a multi-agency team with the aim of getting information about the container. The team met with the vessel captain and senior officers where it was briefed about the container,” said Mr Njue.

The DG said the container was undeclared as having dangerous goods, but was instead disguised as dry cargo.

According to the KMA, the vessel had been inspected in India in July, 2021 under the IOMOU and found with nil deficiencies.

“The vessel was found with documents of compliance for the carriage of dry goods.  The team therefore tasked KNRA to take up the issue of the container with radioactive materials which was already discharged from the vessel for transhipment and was secured in the yard at berth no. 21,” said Mr Njue.