Agony as the recovery of Likoni tragedy bodies postponed, once again

Friday, October 11th, 2019 00:00 |
Likoni tragedy.

Efforts to retrieve the bodies of Mariam Kighenda and her daughter Amanda Mutheu turned into a long wait yesterday with the operation, which was expected to take two to three hours, dragging on until late in the evening.

The recovery exercise was called off at around 5.50pm after divers said they had encountered difficulties reaching the area where the vehicle was located on Wednesday.

Family and hundreds of onlookers who had gathered at the scene of the accident since morning left with dashed hopes.

But even after 11 days of waiting for the recovery of the bodies of his wife and daughter, John Wambua said he “will not lose hope”.

Kighenda and Amanda drowned on September 29 when their car reversed and rolled off the MV Harambee ferry in the Likoni channel.

Wambua, who was among several family members and friends who spent the whole day praying, said giving up was not an option.

Although he looked disturbed, Wambua put on a brave face while being ushered into a car last evening as government Spokesman Cyrus Oguna announced that the operation had been called off until today.

“I woke up at 5am and I spent the whole day here hoping the divers would retrieve the bodies. But no one has told us what has happened,” he said.

Sophisticated equipment

Family spokesman Luka Mbati also said the authorities were not forthcoming with sufficient information.

“The government needs to put more effort because since in the morning, we have been kept in dark. All we need is to get the bodies in order to plan a decent burial so that we can have closure,” said Mbati.

But speaking to the press last evening, Oguna said divers needed more sophisticated equipment to hold onto the vehicle as it is pulled from the seabed.

He confirmed that bodies are in the wreckage located 58 meters undersea. He said they were able to confirm the presence  of the bodies after analysis of footage and images captured by underwater cameras.

Oguna said strong undersea currents also derailed the exercise will resume operation today at 9am.

The operation had started at around 10am with four police vans alongside ambulances and fire engines being put on standby at the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA’s) Mbaraki wharf.

Body bags and stretchers were brought in as preparations to handle the bodies got underway.

At 10.30am, two tugboats flanked by Kenya Navy boats were seen towing a blue crane on a large pontoon towards the marked point just at the middle of a crossing channel where the vehicle was located on Wednesday.

Around five boats with crew aboard were hovering around the pontoon as the operation to retrieve the bodies got underway.

Security was beefed up the Mbaraki wharf where the bodies and vehicle wreckage were being awaited as close to 20 uniformed military and various units of police officers were manning the area to keep away a crowd of onlookers that was beginning to build upon either sides of the crossing channel.

The exercise was scheduled to begin at 9.00am but, according to Oguna, strong undersea currents and busy traffic of vessels arriving and leaving the port beside the ferries along the channel delayed it to around 10.00m. 

“The situation underwater is not as friendly as it may look. The currents in the morning were very strong and there are dangerous sea creatures. Therefore our divers need to approach with caution as they plan the exercise,” said Oguna.

Two teams with eight divers were involved in yesterday’s exercise according to Oguna.

“We are using a total of eight divers... every team has four divers. Two will go underwater while two support divers remain hovering afloat the waters,” the spokesman said.

According to Oguna the accident was recorded on the CCTV footage from the time the car entered Island-bound Mv Harambee on Sunday of September 29, before plunging into the ocean while the ferry was midstream at 1813 hours that evening and went on to sink at 18.14 hours– exactly one minute and 16 seconds after falling into the sea.

Private divers

The whole exercise involved 13 teams of divers from Kenya Navy, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (Kmfri) KPA, as well as local and foreign private divers hired by both government and Kighenda’s family.

“We had a total of 13 teams. All the teams were under Kenya Navy who led the operation under the leadership of Lawrence Gituma who was in charge of the operation... our Kenya Navy divers were the ones who took the most divers underwater,” said Oguna.

The spokesman described the exercise as “very costly.”

While he said it is impossible to quantify the figures of money used in the exercise, Oguna said it may run into “hundreds of millions of shillings.”

“This is a very costly exercise... it involved pulling of high-end resources including procurement of latest equipment and hiring of experts to take part in the exercise. It is not an easy task... we will provide you with a fact sheet to show you all the details,” he said.

Kenya Red Cross Society county coordinator Mohammed Rajab said the organisation has deployed a team of experts to offer counselling services to the family and Kenya Ferry Services staff.

More on National