Kenya: Chinese Firm Scans Through Indian Ocean in Search for Sunken Car, 2 Occupants

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.
3 October 2019

Nairobi — Search and recovery teams deployed in efforts to retrieve the wreckage of a station wagon that sunk into the ocean at the Likoni ferry crossing channel are banking on the use of a high-definition camera equipment to trace the location of the car.

The China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) on Wednesday confirmed that it had deployed a robot into the Indian Ocean waters at the ferry crossing channel after receiving a distress signal from port authorities.

"CCCC responded to the request of Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) by deploying an underwater robot to conduct a search over the ferry area immediately," the firm said in a brief statement on Wednesday.

The equipment has been successfully used in China where rescuers on November 1, 2018 retrieved a bus that had plunged into the Yangtze River in Chongqing Municipality on October 28, 2018. 13 bodies were retrieved after a search operation that lasted three days, China Global Television Network (CGTN) reported.

"Currently affected by the rain season, the underwater environment is turbid, and the water flow is too fast, which makes the search difficult," the multinational however cautioned.

The busy channel at Kilindini Harbour was temporarily closed for the fourth day on Thursday as government intensified the search for the wreckage and bodies of two victims, the occupants of the sunken car, believed to be trapped in the ill-fated vehicle.

35-year-old Mariam Kigenda and her 4-year-old daughter Amanda Mutheu were named as the occupants of the car.

The tragedy has exposed safety lapses with the operator of vessels at the ferry channel - Kenya Ferry Services (KFS) - coming under fierce criticism from a section of coastal leaders who on Wednesday called for the immediate resignation of its top managers, transport ministry and port officials.

MPs Abdulswamad Nassir (Mvita), Mohamed Ali (Nyali), Mishi Mboko (Likoni) and Khatib Mwashetani (Lunga Lunga) demanded for the resignation of KFS Managing Director Bakari Gowa, Kenya Coast Gurad Director General Brigadier Vincent and Kenya Navy Commander Levy Franklin.

The deployment of a robot on Wednesday gave fresh impetus to the search and retrieval mission.

Prior to the deployment of the robot divers unsuccessfully searched five probable locations of the car wreckage only relying on their sense of touch, Government Spokesperson Cyrus Oguna said.

The operation was later called off over poor visibility and rains even as a multi-agency team comprising of the Navy, CCCC, maritime police, and KPA announced that the search had been widened to nine probable locations.

The Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development on Wednesday deployed Transport Principal Secretary Esther Koimett to monitor the search operation amid a public outcry over what was termed as lackluster approach by government agencies to the retrieval operation.

The transport ministry is also on the spot over the sorry mechanical state of ferries at the Likoni crossing channel.

The MV Harambee, the vessel involved in the Sunday evening tragedy had sagging ramps that were not fully retracted.

An amateur video sowed the ramp dragging across the channel as the ferry made the crossing on Sunday.

The sunken station wagon at the tail end of the ferry slid off the iron floor of the vessel and dipped into the waters unfettered.

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