Why Likoni ferry crossing problems won't go away

Uhuru disbanded Kenya Ferry Services board last October; positions still vacant.

In Summary

• At least 27 ferry users were injured on Tuesday during a stampede at the ferry while crossing.

• MV Safari, the latest ferry to be procured at the channel, collided with MV Kwale, taking in alot of water.

The MV Safari near the Likoni ferry crossing island ramp on Tuesday after it was hit by the MV Kwale.
STALLED FERRY The MV Safari near the Likoni ferry crossing island ramp on Tuesday after it was hit by the MV Kwale.

Insufficient funding, a population explosion, poverty and the lack of a board are some reasons that have been cited for ineffective management of ferries.

Most of the ferries are old and the relatively new ones develop frequent mechanical problems, raising questions about their suitability.

Three of six ferries have been in existence for over 30 years yet their useful lives were supposed to be 20 years, according to Kenya Ferry Services managing director Bakari Gowa. 

On Tuesday evening, MV Safari, the newest ferry commissioned in April for Sh2 billion was hit by MV Kwale, causing a hole on MV Safari’s side. Its engine room experienced flooding. 

It had to be withdrawn, reducing the number of ferries operating during rush hours. The fewer ferries and the surging commuters rushing home created an imbalance between supply and demand.

Impatience grew among the commuters, who were cramped up against one another at the waiting bay. Only one of the two gates was operational adding to the congestion at the waiting bay.

Women were mixed with men. When the gate was opened, the commuters surged forward, overwhelming the sentries and the GSU personnel manning the lines.

Hell broke loose, a stampede ensued and 27 people were injured, one critically and had to be admitted at the Coast General Teaching and Referral Hospital.

Likoni MP Mishi Mboko on Wednesday called for the formation of a new Kenya Ferry Services board to oversight the management.

The last board was dissolved by President Uhuru on October 16 last year.

This followed the September 29 tragedy that saw a mother and her four-year-old daughter die after their car slipped off the MV Harambee mid-stream while en route from the mainland side to the island side of the crossing channel. The car and bodies were retrieved 13 days later.

Mboko said the lack of a board to ensure effective management has serious ramifications, including Tuesday’s incident. “I think the lack of the board is a weakness,” she told the Star.

The MP also said poverty has led to most residents of Likoni crossing the channel to get free food offered by Mombasa Cement.

“This has increased the number of people using the ferries. If Mombasa Cement also set up another centre on the mainland side of Likoni, there would be less traffic across the ferry channel,” she said.

Around 300,000 people cross the channel daily while 6,000 vehicles also use it. Goa has also lamented the meagre funds allocated to the service.

During last October’s probe by the National Assembly and Senate transport committees, Goa said they receive less money than they require every fiscal year.

Transport PS Esther Koimett said they are in the process of looking for resources within the Ministry’s own budget to address the many challenges the KFS faces.

“We have made proposals to avail, over the next two years, at least from our own budget, Sh1.1 billion to be able to address some of these challenges,” Koimett 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.

Tuesday’s incident revived calls for Goa’s resignation from Likoni residents who use the channel to get to work and back home.

The channel links Mombasa Island to Kwale county in the South Coast and is the quickest route between the two counties’ CBDs.

Goa said the withdrawal of MV Safari meant only three ferries were operational and social distancing amid the Covid-19 pandemic was disregarded.

Angry Likoni residents, led by Tubonge Youth Initiative chairman Delvis Njue, on Wednesday said Goa is doing a dismal job in ensuring their safety.

“Yesterday’s incident is sad. The only fortunate thing is that there were no fatalities. But should we wait for death for decisive action to be taken? If someone cannot effectively manage the ferries, they should resign,” Njue said. 

Likoni subcounty police commander John Munyoki said the injured included 17 women and 10 men as details emerge on how the stampede started.

Meali Hussein Ali, who had to cling onto a wall on the waiting bay to save her life after the stampede started, said they were forced to use one gate at the waiting bay on the Island side.

The waiting bay has two gates, one nearer the ramp, mostly used by men, and the other further back, just after the turnstiles, which leads to where the cars pass through, mostly used by women.

The sentries, reinforced by GSU personnel and Mombasa county inspectorate officers were overwhelmed. Hell had broken loose.

A county inspectorate officer, who sought anonymity, said the stampede occurred because there was no one controlling the crowd at the point of entry, near the turnstiles.

Jomvu MP Badi Twalib said the commuters must also exercise patience and restrain themselves. He said they should also take personal responsibility and exercise caution, especially in the wake of the Covid-19.

“The Covid-19 directives still apply. This is their own lives we are talking about. No one should police anyone to save their own life,” Twalib said.

He spoke at his residence in Jomvu on Tuesday evening hours after the incident.

The Likoni crossing channel has been labelled a disaster in waiting by many stakeholders including tourism players at the Coast.

Governor Hassan Joho is also on record saying the channel is the weakest link in the fight against Covid-19 as it is difficult to effectively enforce social distancing.  


(edited by o. owino)