RISKING SAFETY

Kenya has only two qualified ship inspectors, they are elderly

KMA director general George Okong’o calls for more inspectors.

In Summary

• At any given time, only one, mostly Shabaan Omar Tayari, can go to the field to inspect the vessels.

• The chief safety officer then relies on the professional opinion of Tayari to ascertain the seaworthiness of a vessel.

MPs Chris Wamalwa (Kiminini), Abdulswamad Nassir (Mvita) and Justus Kizito (Shinyalu) at the Kenya Ferry Services compound on Saturday.
SHOCK: MPs Chris Wamalwa (Kiminini), Abdulswamad Nassir (Mvita) and Justus Kizito (Shinyalu) at the Kenya Ferry Services compound on Saturday.
Image: BRIAN OTIENO

BY BRIAN OTIENO @Yobramos4                         

Kenya has only two qualified people to inspect and ascertain the seaworthiness of vessels operating on the Kenyan waters.

The two, working at the Kenya Maritime Authority, are also elderly, with one having hit the 70-year mark. At any given time, only one, mostly Shabaan Tayari, can go to the field to inspect the vessels.

The chief safety officer relies on Tayari's professional opinion to ascertain the seaworthiness of a vessel. This was revealed during a National Assembly Public Investments Committee session with the KMA management at Serena Hotel in Mombasa on Saturday.

KMA director-general George Okong’o said the authority needs more inspectors.

Committee chairman Abdulswamad Nassir termed it is risky to peg the safety of 350,000 people who use the ferries at Likoni crossing daily on the judgment of an elderly person.

"The government has to do something and ensure more, younger and energetic people are hired," he said.

Earlier, the committee had a session with the management of the Kenya Ferry Services. Pressure has been mounting on the agency to up its game and ensure the safety of the people using the ferries.

The management, however, said their hands are tied, blaming their tribulations on inadequate funding. They need more cash if they have to properly maintain the vessels, they said.

Already, ferry services MD director Bakari Gowa has admitted three of the six ferries at the channel have outlived their usefulness and need to be replaced. These are MV Kilindini, MV Harambee and MV Nyayo, which have all surpassed the requisite 20-years of service. The three have been in operation for more than 30 years now.

The Nassir-led committee also revisited the Mtongwe Ferry tragedy, raising questions why some of the victims’ families have yet to be compensated 25 years later. The management, however, blamed the delays on the identification of the next of kin, administrators of the compensation, and internal family wrangles. The Mtongwe ferry accident claimed 272 lives on April 29, 1994.

Families of the victims were paid between Sh250,000 and Sh350,000. Thirteen of the families have yet to get the cash. However, the ferry services management said three of the families will get some Sh750,000 compensation this month.

"Before the end of the year, the remaining families will be compensated,” the management sought to assure the committee.

The lawmakers blamed the KMA for okaying the operation of ferries that should be decommissioned. But the maritime agency defended itself saying it does regular inspections. The committee is set to meet Transport ministry officials, including CS James Macharia, for further deliberations on the ferries this week.

"The biggest problem is that the more the ferries are used, the more expensive they get to maintain and service," Nassir said.

He said the ferry agency has no maintenance funds, thereby risking the lives of some 350,000 Kenyans who use the ferries daily. The Mvita MP said although the two marine engineers inspecting ferries at the KMA are well qualified and experienced, age is catching up with them and the government needs to put in place succession mechanisms.

(Edited by F'Orieny)