How thousands risk lives to cross Likoni channel daily

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019 09:06 |
Members of the public watch as divers try to recover the bodies of Mariam Kighenda and her daughter Amanda Mutheu who died in a car accident in the Likoni ferry channel on Sunday. Photo/PD/NDEGWA GATHUNGU

The Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) has cancelled seaworthiness certificates for all the Kenya Ferry Services ferries in the wake of the Sunday accident that claimed the lives of Mariam Kighenda and her four-year-old daughter Amanda Mutheu.

The accident, that claimed the lives of a mother and daughter after their vehicle plunged into the sea, has once again exposed safety lapses, negligence and rot at the Kenya Ferry Services (KFS).

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

KMA said four of the vessels still in use have been declared unseaworthy while the others are being operated by unqualified coxswains.

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

The car in which Kighenda and her daughter were travelling in reversed and plunged into the ocean from Mv Harambee, which was sailing from Likoni mainland to the Island.

The authority said yesterday that all KFS vessels do not meet the required safety standards and their seaworthiness licences will not be renewed.

Acting head of Maritime Safety Captain Mbarak Zaunga said coxswains operating the vessels at the channel are poorly trained and do not have the requisite Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) certificates to operate the vessels.

“Coxswains are part of safety. They have not put any effort to train their staff on safety. We have over the years been writing to them and calling them for meetings on the safety of the ferries but they have refused to implement our recommendations,” said Zaunga.

STCW certificates

Zaunga said seaworthiness certificates for Mv Nyayo, Mv Jambo, MV Safina and Mv Kivuko have expired and will not be renewed until all necessary safety measures are adhered to. Kivuko is a small boat used by KFS to ferry staff especially engineers in time of need.

Family members wait as the mission to recover the bodies of mother and daughter who drowned following a ferry accident on Sunday.

“This accident could have been avoided if safety operation procedures had been followed. You cannot leave the jetty without lifting the ramp. The car could not have plunged into the sea if the ramp had been lifted up as required,” he said.

KMA said MV Harambee and Kilindini will also not be issued with new licences because they have failed the seaworthiness tests, after coxswains were found not have the mandatory STCW certificates.

“We have asked them to bring the STCW certificates for the coxswains before we renew the licences. We have not stopped the ferries from operating because this could result in a crisis, but they have refused to cooperate,” he added.

It has also emerged that Mv Harambee, Nyayo and Kilindini were deregistered from UK’s Lloyd’s register after being declared unseaworthy in 2010. International Maritime Organisations (IMO) regulations require all sea going vessels to be insured.

The three vessels are reported to be operating without insurance cover. For any vessel to be insured, it must have a seaworthiness certificate.

Sigh of relief

“In some instances, the vessels have failed all the three inspection principles that we look for. We have carried out inspection every year and they do not meet the structural standards, prevention of pollution and people safety,” Zaunga said.

From ferries that do not have insurance cover to security threats, poor crowd management which has previously resulted in stampedes, overloading and frequent stalling of the vessels, crossing the Likoni channel and arriving safely at the other end is always a huge sigh of relief.

Coast regional coordinator John Elungata said KFS Managing Director Bakari Gowa should carry responsibility for the Sunday accident.

Kenya Rescue Divers team at the Likoni Channel yesterday.

But Gowa has refused to step down in the wake of the accident which has been termed as an act of negligence.

Apart from KFS, the death of the two is also a serious indictment to the Kenya Navy, Kenya Coast Guard Services, Maritime Police Unit, KMA and Kenya Ports authority (KPA). 

With all the billions of shillings that the government has spent equipping the agencies with speed boats, human capital and equipments, none of them could save the lives of Kighenda and her daughter.

The two died as a helpless crowd of close to 1,000 ferry users watched as they screamed for help.

Claims that the government agencies do not have “sophisticated diving equipment” to retrieve bodies has baffled the family and Kenyans in general.

It has also emerged that KFS does not have a disaster management strategy and is often caught flat footed by such incidents. 

On Monday, Gowa admitted that they do not have divers or a specialised rescue team despite the channel recording numerous cases of drowning, suicides and other accidents.

Private divers who have previously played key role in rescue and retrieval efforts are usually not paid.

For the last five years, more that ten cases of vehicles plunging into the ocean have occurred at the ferry channel with at least five people losing their lives.

On July 23, a truck driver and his turn boy escaped death after a lorry they were traveling in plunged into the sea disrupting transport operations at the channel for the better part of the day.

The lorry owned by Mombasa Maize Millers was loaded with wheat and maize flour when it plunged into the ocean.

On June 7, 2016 Joel Masindo died when he accidentally drove his car over the metallic ramp of the MV Kilindini ferry as he got into the vessel headed to Mombasa island.

The rescue team comprising of private divers, arrived 40 minutes later, when it was too late to save the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) accountant.

In another incident, Joan Mukami (not her real name) suffered huge losses two years ago when a lorry she co-owned plunged into the ocean from the ferry under unclear circumstances.

Luckily, the driver and loader of jumped out as the vehicle slid into the water.

Weigh bridges

Mukami says she had to pay Sh28,000 for the car to be retrieved, a process that started eight hours after the accident.

“Apart from the money we paid for the retrieval of the car, we had to pay for the lorry to be repaired.

We had purchased the lorry with a Sh1.3 million loan. The losses were too huge and we had to sell it to repay the loan,” said Mukami.

Incidents of vehicles plunging into the ocean have been blamed on coxswains.

Another problem is failure to prevent overloaded vehicles from boarding the ferries, by making use of the weigh bridges.

Twenty five years after the Mtongwe ferry tragedy which claimed the lives of 272 people as a result of excess passengers, little has changed.

There have been claims that coxswains demand bribes from truck and bus drivers to place the ferry strategically for the vehicles to easily enter and exit at the ramp.

Some bus and lorry drivers, especially those traveling to Tanzania, said apart from paying the normal ferry charges, they have to part with another Sh300 to use the ferry.

“We have to bribe the coxswain so that he can place the ferry in a way that we can get into the ferry and disembark without a hitch.

If you don’t give them money, they will blacklist you and you will find it difficult to get into and disembarking from the ferry,” said one of the drivers.

The Sunday’s death of the mother and daughter caused uproar with Kenyans asking Gowa to take responsibility and resign.

“What happened at Likoni Ferry is uncalled for. This wasn’t meant to happen in the 21st century. Somebody must be sleeping on the job,” Daniel Omondi said.

Twitter user @Twahir_H_Kassim said, “What measures are you putting in place to avoid a repeat of a car driving off midstream? What we note is ferries plying on with their ramps lowered instead of raised! Isn’t this negligence?” he posed.

“And just like that, the tragedy yesterday was just another day in the office for a bunch of incompetent, inconsiderate ferry service handlers.

It hurts to the bone how you can be so cold. I blame corruption for your state of affairs. You need to disbanded forthwith…” @jjogola tweeted.

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