LAST TRIP

Ferry tragedy mum and daughter had toured Likoni farm

On Sunday evening, a Toyota ISIS registration number KCB 289C with the two veered off the rear ramp aboard the MV Harambee and sank into the ocean headfirst.

In Summary

• The two have been identified as Mariam Kighenda, 35, and her daughter Amanda Mutheu, 4.

• Yesterday, family members and friends camped at the Island side of the Likoni crossing channel early in the morning witnessing supposed rescue operations that never were.

The mother and daughter who died after their car slithered from a ferry into the Indian Ocean were coming from a shamba trip in Kwale.

The two have been identified as Mariam Kighenda, 35, and her daughter Amanda Mutheu, 4.

On Sunday evening, their Toyota ISIS KCB 289C veered off the rear ramp aboard the MV Harambee and sank into the ocean headfirst.

 

Lucy Rajula, Kighenda’s sister-in-law, yesterday told the Star it was routine for Kighenda’s husband, John Wambua, to give his wife his car every Sunday for a shamba trip to Likoni.

“He had remained at home with the elder son as the wife went out with the car,” she said.

She added that Kighenda was a businesswoman, she sold clothes. Photos show a bubbly, Kighenda, full of life. She liked fashion and was ever jovial.

Going by the photos posted on her social media accounts, the family seemed to live a happy life.

Yesterday morning, family members and friends camped on the Island side of the Likoni crossing channel to witness rescue operations that never were.

By press time, the operations had not yet started and there were no signs they were about to. Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko instructed divers from the Sonko Rescue team to help. Family members were made to only stare at Kenya Navy boats and ships crisscrossing the channel in preparation for the upcoming Mashujaa Day celebrations. 

The car plunged 60 metres deep but available machines, according to some sources, can last divers for only half the depth.

 

Apart from a statement released on Sunday evening by the ferry services confirming the accident and stating that efforts were being made to rescue the victims,  the management had remained mum for the better part of the day, with phone calls going unanswered. 

They were said to have been in a meeting. A post on the agency’s Facebook page said, “We’d like to inform our esteemed ferry users and the bereaved families of the yesterday accident on board Mv. Harambee that the salvage operations that were suspended yesterday continued for the better part of today.

“We’ve called in more teams to hasten the search, location and retrieval of the two bodies and the vehicle wreckage. We’ve also engaged the Red Cross team within our operational areas to offer psycho-social support to the affected family members and a contact point at our Island offices for logistical purposes. We will give updates as the salvage exercise continue.”

Before then, efforts to contact MD Bakari Gowa had been futile.  And there was no leader on the spot to speak about the incident.

“We have stayed here since yesterday night. Nobody is talking to us. Our sister’s body is deep in the water while officials are just holding endless meetings,” said Catherine Wanjala, the deceased’s sister.

The Star learnt that Wambua had to seek services of a renowned diver known as Musa to retrieve the bodies. Early in the morning, he sat alone at the shores of the ocean helplessly staring into the void that had presumably suddenly engulfed his heart.

He was occasionally hugged by relatives, but he seemed too engrossed in thoughts to notice them. Occasionally, he would seem strong and composed and would engage some people in short conversations before suddenly bursting into tears. The grief had been escalated by the fact that the rescue operation had yet to start.

The family stays in Tudor area and the girl was a PP1 pupil at MM Shah Primary, a school attended by children from well-off families near Nyali Bridge. Dozens of friends and relatives had gathered at the Likoni Ferry, metres away from where their loved ones had perished. A Kenya Red Cross Land Cruiser parked at the shores of the ocean and four Red Cross staff were seen interviewing the relatives.

The relatives all stared at the sea waiting for the never coming comment from the Kenya Ferry Services management, who were all the while holed up in a supposed crisis meeting. Women sobbed as men held chins taken aback by the fact that the government was either unwilling or agonisingly slow in initiating a rescue operation to retrieve the bodies and the car.

The family members questioned the absence of standby divers, oxygen tanks, speedboats, fire extinguishers and medical points on either side of the channel.“Why do we have plenty of bouncers and no divers? Why do we pay to board the ferry anyway if we can’t have safety?” a close relative said on condition of anonymity.

Teachers at MM Shah Primary described the late Mutheuas as a bubbly girl. “She was always jovial and smiling. She was also very bright. It hurts to even speak about her,” one teacher said, adding that she had joined the school this year.

The tragedy exposed how disjointed state agencies are in coordinating rescue operations. There were reports that the Ferry Services lacks skilled divers or specialised equipment to handle marine disasters. 

Kenya Rescue Divers and Life Savers Organisation chairman Moses Owaga said the Kenya Ferry Services relies on his volunteer team in case of emergencies. This time, however, his team kept off because of a standoff over payment. 

Kenya Ferry Services is no stranger to accidents. In July 2019, a canter with two occupants plunged into the sea while disembarking on the Island side. The two escaped unhurt.

In May 2016, a bus ferrying passengers from Tanzania to the Mombasa Island plunged into the sea after its brakes failed.

In December 2015, seven people were injured and six vehicles smashed after a lorry’s brakes failed at Likoni channel in Mombasa.

Two years ago,  the driver of a truck loaded with a heavy container lost control at the tollbooth, ramming a parked ferry. Three women died on the spot, while another succumbed to her injuries in hospital.

In June 2016, an accountant at the Kenya Ports Authority lost his life after his vehicle slid from a ferry at the Likoni channel.  Witnesses said it took 30 minutes for Joel Masindano’s car to sink.  

On April 29, 1994, the MV Mtongwe ferry bound for the mainland capsized just 40 metres from the port, killing 272 of the 400 people on board. It was reported that the capacity of the ship was 300.