Kenya: First underwater museum

Posted: 02/07/2012 in all marine news

Gitonga Marete And Bozo Jenje –

Just before the Portuguese surrendered to the Arabs in 1697, there was an intense battle for control of Fort Jesus.

In the process, a Portuguese warship that had been deployed near the fort was sunk. Christened Santo Antonio, the ship still lies on the sea bed near the fort, piling on rust by the kilo.

But Santo Antonio’s fate could soon change because the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) is planning to salvage it and turn it into a tourist attraction. Industry players say there is a fortune lying deep in the waters that surround Mombasa, one of the most important trade and military destinations of the 17th century.

Because of its role as a convergence point for Portuguese, Arab, and British explorers, the port town witnessed some of the bloodiest conflicts during that era, and NMK believes that there are tens of ships wrecked around the island.

Underwater archaeologists say that, if well preserved, these shipwrecks and the artefacts they are believed to hold could help revive cultural tourism at the Coast, a sector whose fortunes have dwindled over the past few years.

For instance, statistics indicate that the number of foreign and local visitors to Fort Jesus, the main cultural site at the Coast, has remained at around 170,000 a year in the past five years — apart from 2008, when it declined to 130,000 due to the political turmoil that rocked the country that year.

And, with the current decline in cruise tourism due to pirate activity in the Indian Ocean, a substitute product is necessary to supplement the shortfall in earnings.

Kenya’s tourism earnings have been on the rise over the past three years, with the industry earning the exchequer Sh73.4 billion in 2010, up from Sh62 billion the previous year, while projections for last year, whose figures have yet to be released, are in the range of Sh80 billion.

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