- CAS Obure refuses to apportion blame saying the government’s focus is to retrieve the two bodies.
The police say they had instructions to ask diver Sila and his team of about 12 to step aside but they were opposed.
A section of divers boycotted search operations at Likoni channel yesterday, while heavy rains slowed the exercise.
At the same time, Likoni MP Mishi Mboko defended management of the Kenya Ferry Services and Kenya Navy over the Sunday evening disaster. Mariam Kighenda, 35, and her daughter Amanda Mutheu, four, drowned after their car rolled off the MV Harambee. It was underway; there were no vehicle restraints.
Ferry services were sporadic for most of the day as the Navy, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Institute (Kemfri), Kenya Ports Authority and special divers contracted yesterday continued to search for the sunken car.
Transport CAS Chris Obure yesterday admitted before the National Assembly Transport Committee that the accident could have been averted had basic safety measures adhered to. He, however, refused to apportion blame saying the government’s focus at the moment is to retrieve the bodies.
“I want to say the tragic event on Sunday is regrettable and unfortunate. It’s sad we lost two Kenyans in what could have been avoided,” Obure said.
MPs Tom Odege (Nyatike), Moses Kiarie (committee vice-chairperson), Mugambi Murwithania (Buuri), and Gideon Mulyungi (Mwingi Central) demanded the immediate resignation of KFS boss Bakari Gowa.
The lawmakers accused KFS of laxity, negligence and high-level irresponsibility in the manner the whole tragedy has been handled.
On Wednesday evening, highly decorated volunteer Silas Owago and his team were involved in an altercation with the police and various government agencies. This prompted KFS chairman Dan Mwazo, and human rights activists to defend the team, ensuring they were back to the mission.
The police said they had instructions to ask Sila and his team of about 13 divers to step aside but they were opposed.
There were claims Musa and his team were giving the family false information on the location of the sunken vehicle, thus jeopardising collective efforts, a statement he refuted.
Kenyans have blamed KFS for negligence and lack of divers for the death of the two, while the Kenya Navy was blamed for its inadequacy to respond to a disaster.
Government spokesperson Cyrus Oguna had earlier said if there was any laxity on the part of any authority, disciplinary action would be taken. Unconfirmed reports had indicated that the MD, Bakari Gowa and the whole board, would be sent home.
There were allegations that recommendations of a meeting held on Wednesday evening and attended by Oguna, Gowa, Mwazo, Transport PS Esther Koimett, had resolved to forward recommendations about their suspension. Contacted on the phone, Mwazo, however, said all recommendations were shared in the media yesterday morning.
Yesterday, Mboko said KFS lacks enough funding to routinely service the vessels and employ standby divers to respond to disasters.
“We’ve heard the hues and cries from Kenyans attacking KFS, but the question is: Do they have enough funding?” she asked.
“We need to have divers on the channel. We need to have standby boats… this means adequate funding should be given to KFS to ensure they can employ divers and have standby boats.”
Mboko asked the KFS management to send a proposal to the National Assembly to ask for additional funding.
“Let's have that proposal in Parliament so we can push for the adequate funding because you need to be well facilitated,” she said.
Mboko asked Kenyans to give the Kenya Navy some time to finish their operation.
“We should give Navy a chance to continue with the search because the truth of the matter is that this channel is very deep and dark inside. That's why I believe the government has taken longer to complete the operation,” she said.
The Likoni channel is quite deep, the underwater currents are strong, the shipping traffic busy, and the water is murky because of the ongoing rains, hence slow operations. More than 300,000 people and 6,000 vehicles cross the Likoni ferry channel every day.
“This place is very dark, it needs a lot of time,” Oguna said.
He said the Navy has the capacity to deal with any disaster and all other agencies at the channel are working under the single command and coordination of the military arm.
“We've seen reports that on that ill-fated day, the vehicle floated for more than 20 minutes. However, it only floated for one minute and the Navy responded on time, but the vehicle had already sunk deep,” Oguna said.
A meteorological official who sought anonymity said the currents underneath surpass that of a flowing river and the situation may remain the same until next week when they will be a bit mild.
Even so, the Transport committee demanded heads to roll at the ferry services.
MP Kiarie who chaired part of yesterday’s session demanded answers on why the ferry could operate without a standby emergency unit to handle emergencies.
Mulyungi said, "How can the vehicle remain on top of the water for a whole 15 minutes and nothing happens? The MD should go home because this is endangering the lives of our people who use the ferry on a daily basis."
Mugambi said the tragedy is a clear case of failed management at the ferry agency and questioned why the ministry has not cracked the whip.
The accident has raised questions about the safety of the Likoni crossing channel, where ferries, with dangerously sagging and rusty ramps, carry more than 300,000 pedestrians and 6,000 vehicles daily.
Other than the rusty ramps, MV Harambee does not have a safety mechanism that would have prevented the car from sliding back into the ocean.
(Edited by F'Orieny)