Kenya: Motorists and Passengers Hang on a Thread to Cross Likoni Ferry

15 October 2019

Mombasa — The death of a mother and daughter whose vehicle plunged into the Indian Ocean on September 29 does not appear to have sent any warning message to the management of the Kenya Ferry Services (KFS).

The bodies of Mariam Kighenda, 35 and her daughter Amanda Mutheu, 4 were pulled out of the Ocean on Friday, two weeks after the vehicle slid off the back of an old ferry that is still used to transport passengers across the channel.

The incident has exposed inefficiencies and security risks passengers and motorists are exposed to, in what appears normal for locals.

For instance, it has emerged that KFS does not have a single diver on its payroll to respond to any emergency, because Mariam and Amanda could have been saved when their vehicle slid off the ferry and floated for a couple of minutes before it sunk, according to experts.

The incident has further exposed KFS negligence in maintaining their six vessels, which carry across over 300,000 commuters and 6,000 motorists on a daily basis.

On that ill-fated day, a Toyota ISIS slid-off the ramp of MV Harambee- one of the oldest ferries, and plunged into the Indian Ocean.

"They could have been saved," a diver who was involved in the operation to recover the bodies said, "that vehicle floated for some time, and that was enough for divers to rush and rescue them."

The diver was uncomfortable being named for this story for fear of victimisation.

Two other officials based at the ferry services share the same sentiments.

On that fateful Sunday evening, there were no patrol boats or stand-by divers to try and rescue the young family from drowning into the shark-infested deep waters.

It took several government agencies, the Kenya Navy and private divers, some hired from South Africa, 12 days to locate and retrieve the vehicle and the bodies which were still intact at the back of the car where they were on a tight embrace.

The car's gear lever was on Parking mode, suggesting it was not in motion when it slid off the ramp.

As late as Monday, passengers and motorists were still using the old ferry, whose ramp hang precariously, exposing those on board to danger of drowning.

"Speed limit within the ferry area is 30km/hr. Ensure braking system is sound and lower vehicle windows while aboard and switch off your vehicle engine," KFS warns motorists using the ferry.

However, even with all these instructions, three of the four ferries that had been deployed in the channel on Monday morning have faulty ramps.

A photo of MV Harambee doing rounds on social media, showed vehicles being carried across the channel with the ramps of the ferry submerged in water.

The floor of the ferry appear slippery due to the heavy rains experienced in Mombasa.

"We never learn! These ferries should be withdrawn," said Brian Otieno, a Likoni resident.

Last Saturday, Kenya Ferry Services Managing Director Bakari Gowa said three of the six ferries operating across the Likoni and Mtongwe channels are in dire need of repair.

Gowa said the poor state of the ferries is one of the major challenges they face.

According to Gowa, the KFS management will withdraw one ferry at a time for repairs.

"MV Nyayo will be the first to go for repairs. It takes over four months to repair one ferry. MV Harambee will then be repaired next before MV Kilindini follows," said Gowa.

The three ferries; MV Nyayo, MV Harambee, and MV Kilindini were bought second hand in the 1990s.

MV Kwale, MV Likoni were bought in 2010, following the perennial breakdown of the older ferries.

Two of the oldest ferries; MV Mvita and MV Pwani which were bought in 1969 and 1974, respectively, were decommissioned, after MV Kwale and MV Likoni were acquired.

MV Jambo, which is the newest and the largest of all the ferries, was acquired in 2017.

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