Ferry incident threatens to sour Mashujaa Day as State races against time

Friday, October 11th, 2019 00:00 |

The government is racing against time to retrieve bodies of a mother and daughter who plunged into the sea at the Likoni channel, to avoid embarrassment during the Mashujaa Day celebrations.

This comes in the wake of calls on Mombasa residents to boycott the event in solidarity with the family of Mariam Kighenda, 35, and her four-year-old daughter Amanda Mutheu who drowned at the channel 11 days ago.

Local leaders among them Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa have also asked President Uhuru Kenyatta to postpone the celebrations because it would be “shameful to celebrate at a scene where people are mourning”.

“It is disheartening that a woman and her daughter are still 60 metres deep. It will be a shame if the President will come all the way for Mashujaa Day yet the bodies are yet to be retrieved.

There is nothing to celebrate. As the Commander-in-Chief, kindly give an order or consider rescheduling the event,” the MP said.

With the day coming closer, Kenya Navy which has been leading the operation has increasingly been under pressure, forcing it to suspend sea-war drills that it was conducting in preparations for the event.

Lack skills

The September 29 accident has exposed Kenya Navy to ridicule for allegedly lacking requisite skills and equipment to undertake rescue and recovery mission, with Kenya Ferry Services (KFS) getting a backlash for endless safety lapses, and negligence claims.

Other agencies which have shared the blame for failing in their mandate are the newly formed Kenya Coast Guard Services, Maritime Police Unit, Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) and Kenya Ports Authority (KPA). Residents are wondering how with all the billions of shillings that the government has spent equipping the agencies with speed boats, human capital and equipment, none of them could save the lives of Kighenda and Mutheu. 

However, it has emerged that the government agencies do not have adequate diving equipment to handle such rescue and recovery efforts. Kenya Navy has to rely on equipment hired from private diving companies like Subsea of Subtech Group company from South Africa and Southern Engineering Company (Seco).

“This accident has left the government with egg on its face. All the agencies mandated to protect lives of people of Kenyans, ensure their safety and rescue them in case of such disaster failed in their core duties,” said Haki Africa’s Hussein Khalid.

Residents argues that unfortunately 25 years after the Mtongwe tragedy which claimed the lives of 272 people as a result of excess passengers, little has changed. 

“We need to be more proactive bearing in mind that anything can happen like what we witnessed last Sunday. When we say KFS needs standby rescue divers it is important to note that this can only be made possible if the service is given adequate funding to employ a team of divers,” said Likoni MP Mishi Mboko.

Reports from the Auditor General indicate that KFS received Sh356 million from government in the 2017/18 as compensation for free passage of pedestrians. It collected Sh492 million in the same year from motorists.

Last week, Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) said it has cancelled seaworthiness certificates for all the KFS ferries in the wake of the accident. 

From the unqualified personnel, poorly maintained vessels with broken prows ploughing in water as the ferry sails and the rotten guardrails to none functional weighbridge and security screening gadgets, KMA said the ferries are just a disaster in waiting.

About 300,000 pedestrians and more than 6,000 motorists use the ferries daily across the channel.

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