• Wamatangi said the handling of commuters waiting to board and those disembarking from the ferries also needs to be improved.
• He said the manner in which the KFS handles them is inhumane, dangerous and haphazard.
Senators have proposed a raft of measures to ensure the safety of Kenyans using the ferries across the Likoni and Mtongwe channels in Mombasa.
Top of the list of the Senate Committee on Roads, Transport and Infrastructure is the gradual phaseout of three of the six ferries operating across the channels.
MV Harambee, MV Kilindini and MV Nyayo have outlived their usefulness and have been ‘disasters in waiting’ for the past few years. Kenya Ferry Services MD Bakari Gowa said the three have been in existence for more than 30 years, yet they were supposed to be used for 20 years.
Statistics from the ferry agency indicate that some 350,000 people are ferried across the Likoni channel daily using the six ferries. The vessels also carry about 5,600 vehicles and 6,000 bicycles daily.
On Thursday, the committee chairman Kimani Wamatangi (Kiambu) said they will give a duration within which the three ferries should be phased out. The decision is set for their next sitting. The Senate resumes sessions on Tuesday.
“We cannot say that whoever gets into the ferries will be 100 per cent guaranteed of their safety," Wamatangi said.
He spoke after the committee inspected the ferries. This was moments after they grilled the ferry agency management team led by Gowa at the Kenya Maritime Authority offices.
"The immediate, foreseeable and feasible proposal that this committee will be making in the near future is to ground some of those ferries because we cannot wait until a disaster strikes for us to start wishing we had made those drastic proposals," Wamatangi said.
He said the handling of commuters waiting to board and those disembarking from the ferries also needs to be improved. The manner in which the ferry agency handles them is inhumane, dangerous and haphazard, he added.
Nominated Senator Christine Zawadi described the waiting bays as ‘cages’ where all and sundry are bundled together like animals waiting to be taken to the slaughterhouse.
Enock Wambua (Kitui) said no human being in their right senses should allow people to be kept in the waiting bays as they are dilapidated. "There is a need for improvement to give dignity to the people,” he said.
The committee directed that the Mombasa county government work with the ferry agency to handle the queues on either side of the channel. It urged that the county traffic marshals be deployed at the ferry termini to direct traffic.
“The county government of Mombasa must have a traffic unit at the channel within 14 days,” Wamatangi said.
The committee will be pushing to have the agency get more funds or put on hold some of its projects. One of the biggest impediments to safety has been the inadequate funds allocated to the service.
“We cannot continue taking risks. We will ensure that (allocation of more funds) happens,” Wamatangi said.
One such project is the proposed Sh5.8 billion cable car project. The government has committed to having it constructed across the Likoni channel through a Public-Private Partnership arrangement. Already, the government has signed a concession agreement with Trapos Limited, the sponsors of the project.
But the commencement of the works has been postponed several times because of issues such as land disputes. Construction, coupled with the proposed construction of a bridge across the Likoni channel, is expected to ease movement between the Mombasa Island and the South Coast.
According to the agreement, the firm will run it for 25 years after construction, before reverting the assets and revenue collection to the Kenya Ferry Services. On Thursday, however, Wamatangi said this may have to be put on hold, questioning the ability of the ferry agency to start a new project before existing problems are fixed.
“It is the view of this committee that until such a time when we will have been fully convinced that the management of KFS has upped its game to be able to engage in a new endeavour to provide service in the air before they fix service on the ground, we will be saying that project must first be put on hold,” the chairman said.
Senator Wambua said the agency must focus its energies on improving services and ensuring safety and security of commuters. He said though the cable car project will be a PPP venture, the ferry agency, being a public entity, will enter into a partnership with the private entity on behalf of the public.
Transport PS Esther Koimett said they are in the process of looking for resources to tackle the many challenges the ferry services face.
“We have made proposals to make available, over the next two years, at least from our own budget, Sh1.1 billion to be able to address some of these challenges,” she said.
The PS said they are engaging the National Treasury to facilitate the ministry, through the supplementary estimates, with at least Sh500 million to start the process and another Sh600 million in the next financial year.
“We have for a long time lacked financing. Even when the KFS has come to the ministry to request for more money, they have not been able to get it,” Koimett said.
She said the government must start prioritising the ferry services because there is no alternative to use to cross from the North Coast to the South Coast.
(Edited by F'Orieny)