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LAUNCHING AND NAMING OF SHIPS

The launching and naming of a warship is a momentous occasion, and is invariably accompanied by a formal ceremony. To add to the pomp and pageantry, the ship is freshly painted to give her an immaculate appearance, and a large Tricolour is draped across her bows.

From the experience of the Indian Navy, for example, prior to the ceremony an invocation in sacred Sankrit is recited either by the Senior Naval Officer present or his representative. The invocation consists of verses drawn from the Atharva Veda which contain great essence and depth.

Before the advent of electric power on board, ships used oil lamps as steaming and sidelights.

The launching and naming of the ship is traditionally done by a lady, normally the wife of a Chief Guest. At the commencement of the ceremony, she names the ship with the customary words, "I have the pleasure in naming this ship Indian Naval Ship... (as the case may be). May good fortune attend her and all those who sail in her."

Thereafter she applies Kumkum on the stem of the ship, folds her hands in a silent prayer, and then breaks a coconut on the bows of the ship. With the splash of coconut water, the ship begins to slide down the slipway imperceptibly at first and gradually gains momentum. Thereafter, she majestically slides into the water with the shipyard personnel manning her foxle and cheering lustily.

For an Indian warship commissioned in a foreign port, it is customary that the innovation is recited and the ship named at the commissioning ceremony itself. Maybe this is why it is customary for a warship to be characterized as feminine.

THE COMMISSIONING PENNANT OF THE NAVY SHIPS

The moment the commissioning pennant is broken at the masthead, a ship becomes a Naval ship of war , ready to serve her country in all aspects. A ship becomes the responsibility of the Commanding Officer, who together with the ship's officers and men has the duty of making her ready for any service required by the nation, whether we be at peace or at war.

The commissioning pennant has for centuries been the symbol of a man-of-war. It is believed to originate from the 17 century war between Holland and England. The Dutch Admiral Tromp hoisted a broom at his masthead, indicating his intention to sweep the British from the sea. The British Admiral, who hoisted a horsewhip, indicating the British intention to chastise the Dutch, answered this gesture. The British carried out their boast and ever since, the narrow, coach whip pennant (symbolizing the original horsewhip) has been the distinctive mark of a ship of war, and has been adopted by all nations including Kenya . In the Kenya Navy, the commissioning Pennant reflects a similarity to the national flag and comprises of three colours, Black at the top, Red in the middle and Green at the bottom.

THE DEACTIVATION CEREMONY

The modern deactivation ceremony symbolizes a tribute to the ship preparing for her decommissioning, the time-honored end of a ship's life. At its decommissioning, the ship's colors and commissioning pennant are hauled down and the watches secured. The solemn ceremony where the commissioning pennant, ensign and jack are hauled down for the last time is a dedication to the total operational success of the ship and the men who sailed her.

MEMENTOS OF SHIPS SAVED FOR POSTERITY

While the decommissioning ceremony of a ship will last a few hours, the artifacts collected from it will last far in the future. Decommissioning often involves research into the ship's history to help define the right artifacts to preserve. The number of artifacts collected varies from ship to ship. The number can run from a couple dozen to, in some cases, a couple of hundreds. Items collected, include the ship's bell, last flags and materials relating to her role in operations, builder's plaque, last national ensign and deck flags, fleet trophies, weapons and other diverse equipment.

The two most significant items that are often asked by reunions are the ship's bell and the builder's plaque. The builder's plaque gains its importance through significant details engraved on it, such as the date construction started, the launch date and date of commission, as well as the place of construction and sometimes the origin of the name.

DECOMMISSIONING OF THE FIRST SQUADRON

Each unit of the Navy holds unique ceremonies during the course of its existence. The Commissioning Ceremony bears the promise for a bright future, and the Decommissioning Ceremony, signifies the end of an era, honouring all of the men and women who have given their time, their energy, and for some, their lives, to fulfill and surpass the aspirations held by those who stood in the commissioning ceremony.

The ceremony is an honoured product of Naval tradition. Custom has established that this ceremony be formal and impressive-a solemn occasion on which we pause to reflect upon the rich heritage of a particular ship and the Navy. A ship's decommissioning ceremony is a formal occasion that terminates the active Naval service life of a ship. The hauling down of the colours and the first order to secure the watch marks the end of service as a warship.

This symbolic act also ends the continuing chain of responsibility, authority and accountability that passes on through each generation of succeeding Commanding Officers and Crew. Upon decommissioning the ship is no longer the responsibility of the Commanding Officer and ceases to be a commissioned vessel of the Navy. The officers and crew march off and carry out their orders to report to other ships and other stations. The ship passes into history but lives on in the memories of those who served in her.

The first Squadron of Simba Class of ships comprised of KNS Simba, KNS Chui and KNS Ndovu. They were procured from Vosper Thornycroft of Britain and commissioned in 1966 by the first President of the Republic of Kenya, the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

The leadership of its Class, KNS Simba was among the first ships to cross the Suez Canal after it was opened to traffic usage soon after the completion of its construction. From 1966, the ship and her two sister ships KNS Chui and KNS Ndovu undertook a series of voyages and visits to the Indian Ocean island republics of Malagasy, Mauritius, Zanzibar and the Seychelles in May 1967.

In November 1967 KNS Simba under command of LieutenantCommodore A J D Coxon (RN) embarked on a short training visit code named "Safari Fupi" to Malagasy. During the return voyage to Mombasa, the ships were deployed in a Search and Rescue Exercises carried out with Aircrafts from the Kenya Air force.

In June 1968 the ships under command of Lieutenant Commodore Tom Potts (RN) embarked on a training cruise to the Island of Seychelles for 10 days. In the entire training cruise the Squadron undertook, they achieved the purpose for which they were taken: - spreading Kenyan goodwill and showing the Kenyan flag as well as providing officers and men with the practical training required for efficient performance of tasks assigned to them.

The ship underwent two separate regular overhauls, first in 1988 and again in 1992. The overhaul added more punch to make it a larger and more capable unit. The modernization was a great success and the ship grew from strength to strength in the years that followed. Her use was however limited to training Kenya Navy personnel before being decommissioned altogether.

KNS Simba was considered a lucky ship and was full of life. She was the first ship specially built for the Kenya Navy and became the most modern ship of the Navy. With no collision or grounding, KNS Simba had excellent morale and reputation amongst the fleet ships.

In 1997 a Board of Survey was instituted by the Kenya Navy Headquarters to examine the material condition of KNS Simba. This Board concluded that the ship should be decommissioned altogether. It based its recommendations on the fact that having been built in 1966 the ship was then 32 years old and could not be brought back to operational state and sea worthiness. It would have been an exercise too expensive and involving, and which would neither be cost effective nor economical. Besides, it was also appreciated that ships of its class built about the same time had all been decommissioned.

The erstwhile KNS Simba was a mariner's dream to "handle". It was the ultimate desire of every executive "Commander" of the sixties and seventies to command her. Indeed it is true that no ship is just a body of metal, lengths of wire binding together weapons, sensors and equipment. The ship lives and breaths through the men and lives on in spirit through them, long after the hull ceases to exist.

With a tremendous reputation in the Navy Fleet there was never any doubt in anybody's mind that KNS Simba would produce results. Even in her old age she was a proud ship and never said No to any job at sea. Memories of KNS Simba still linger in the minds and hearts.

By 1996 KNS Jamhuri and KNS Harambee had been in active service for 20 years and therefore became increasingly difficult to support in terms of the maintenance of major equipment onboard arising out of non-availability of spares and obsolescence of same.

On 24th August 1999 the Navy Headquarters instituted a Board of Survey to value KNS Harambee and KNS Jamhuri and recommended decommissioning altogether. As a result the two ships (KNS Harambee and KNS Jamhuri) were decommissioned in a brief but solemn ceremony presided over by the former President and Commander In Chief of the Defence Forces of Kenya, Daniel arap Moi, on 26th August 2000.

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