Kenya: KFS, Coast Guard Not Ready to Carry 'Burden' of Retrieving Ferry Victims

A screenshot of a video that captured the moment a vehicle with two occupants submerged into the Indian Ocean after sliding off a ferry at Likoni Channel.
2 October 2019

As Mr John Wambua stood on the shore watching divers map the ocean, he remained hopeful that the body of his wife Mariam Kighenda and daughter Amanda Mutheu would be retrieved from the depths of the Likoni channel.

Unknown to Mr Wambua, and with about 48 hours before operation began, retrieving the remains and his car from the sea would cost millions of shillings, a "burden" State agencies were not ready to shoulder.

EXPENSIVE

To save face, the Kenya Ferry Services attempted to take charge of the mission even though its officials understood the task was complex and expensive.

The Nation learnt that for the operation to succeed, KFS had to get a commitment from the Kenya Ports Authority to stop ships from crossing the channel for at least eight hours.

That was not an option. KFS instead chose to suspend operations for 30 minutes to allow its team of divers time to map out the crossing.

"We have suspended ferry operations for 30 minutes to give room for the seawater to calm and divers to begin the mission," KFS Managing Director Bakari Gowa said. "We have identified a vessel at 75 feet deep and another at 135 feet. A team led by Kenya Navy officers will attempt to get to first vessel."

If that turned out to be the wrong target, he said, a South African company would take over the operation."

But the Nation was informed by a marine scientist attached to one of the agencies involved in the recovery that there was lack of coordination in the process.

DISREGARDED

"The vehicle is 60 metres deep," the scientist said. "Ordinarily, such an operation can best be carried out at only 30 metres. In a situation like this, there is a need to suspend the use of the channel by ships."

Ships seeking to dock at the Kilindini port complicated the situation.

"A special team should be assembled for the mission," the scientist said. "The coordinating group has disregarded our input and termed the Sh2 million budget as ridiculous."

It has also emerged that the auditor-general had raised safety concerns about the ferries in 2017.

And this comes as maintenance and repairs have become money pits, gobbling up more than Sh400 million in the past three years, with nothing to show for it.

The auditor-general accused KFS of contravening safety standards by failing to service its vessels after every 8,500 hours of operations as the law demands.

AVOIDABLE

When the report was being prepared, the MV Likoni and MV Kwale had operated for more than 35,000 hours without being serviced.

Meanwhile, MPs want KFS and the Kenya Coast Guard to take responsibility for the tragedy.

Addressing reporters at Parliament Tuesday, eleven lawmakers said the deaths were avoidable.

Likoni MP Mishi Mboko demanded to know where the lifeguards and divers were.

"Heads must roll. There was incompetence on the part of KFS, the Coast Guard and the Navy," she said.

The others at the press briefing were Gladys Wanga (Homa Bay), Khatib Mwashetani (Lunga Lunga), Lilian Gogo (Rangwe), Fatuma Gedi (Wajir), Naisula Lesuuda (Samburu West), Beatrice Adagala (Vihiga), Elsie Muhanda (Kakamega), Ruweida Mohamed (Lamu), Teddy Mwambire (Ganze) and William Kamoti (Rabai).

Additional reporting by Samwel Owino

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