IT'S HARD TO OWN UP TO FAILURE

Likoni ferry tragedy exposes shame of our unpreparedness and buck-passing

Family waited in agony, even asked to pay for divers, as blame game raged on

In Summary
  • No official has taken responsibility even as Kenyans ask concerned authorities to step down.
  • Those involved in operation said poor visibility, depth of the ocean and lack of proper equipment were to blame for delays.
The vehicle that slipped off a ferry at the Likoni channel and sunk into the Indian Ocean with a woman and her daughter is retrieved on Friday.
The vehicle that slipped off a ferry at the Likoni channel and sunk into the Indian Ocean with a woman and her daughter is retrieved on Friday.
Image: JOHN CHESOLI

At first, it was just like any other sad news making headlines. Mariam Kigenda, 36, and her daughter Amanda Mutheu, 4, had plunged into the Indian ocean while in their vehicle.

They slipped off the Likoni Ferry that lacked restraints, a ramp or gate.

Images of the vehicle slowly sinking into the ocean circulated online and Kenyans condoled with the family and friends of the two.

Soon the Kenya Ferry Services was on the spot over its role in the accident and its clear lack of preparedness. The sedan car was aboard the Likoni Ferry, reversed and plunged into the ocean on September 29 at 6:15pm.

Kenyans questioned why the ramp of the ferry was not raised, the driver having reversed and the vessel not having any divers notwithstanding.

A raised ramp would have prevented the vehicle from plunging into the ocean.

Retrieving the vehicle and the two bodies was the next task. It appeared it would have been done swiftly and with ease but instead, it raised questions about the capabilities of the Kenyan Navy and the country’s ability to respond to such disasters quickly and effectively.

The blame game, finger-pointing and mutual buck-passing then started, a familiar feature in the country whenever disasters strike.

Many days after the sinking,  the bodies and the vehicle were still underwater and no one had taken responsibility.

Operations to retrieve the bodies at the Likoni Channel were carried out by local diver from government and private agencies as well as South Africa.

 
 

David Osiany, a policy and governance expert, asks why the managing director of KFS Bakari Gowa did not take responsibility, and more so, why the chair of the board Danson Mwazo did not ask for his resignation.

“Public office means service to the public,” he explained.

Uasin Gishu Woman Representative Gladys Shollei said, “If we cannot rescue one motor vehicle and two bodies, there is something terribly wrong with this country. What does the Kenya Navy do with its budget?”

Her Homa Bay counterpart Gladys Wanga said the family should not have to invest in private divers to retrieve the bodies. “I would, however, want to thank Mombasa Governor [Hassan] Joho for giving money for the family to bring in South African divers to help retrieve the bodies of their loved ones,” she said. 

Joho gave the ferry tragedy family Sh2 million to fly in South African divers.

The arrival of the South African team of divers on the eighth day of the operation reinforced the work. Poor visibility, depth of the ocean and lack of proper equipment were cited as one of the biggest challenges in the operation.

Elsie Muhanda, the Kakamega Woman Representative, said the MD should have resigned.

“It is sad that many days later, the bodies were still under the water and there was someone still receiving a salary,” she said.

The military took over Likoni Channel as the search for the car and bodies intensified.

The arrival of the South African team of divers on the eighth day of the operation reinforced the work.

Poor visibility, depth of the ocean and lack of proper equipment were cited as one of the biggest challenges in the operation.

KFS chairman Dan Mwazo said the team of divers would rely on technology to help identify objects under the ocean for the purpose of retrieving the bodies.

Kenyans on social media nonetheless pointed out that there have been even more complex such operations in other parts of the world that were conducted in a systematic and proficient manner.

One of the most remarkable retrievals was in July 2018, when a cave rescue saved members of a junior football team trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand.

The boys and their coach had entered the cave when torrential rains caused flooding and trapped them all in.

Hundreds of rescuers from around the world teamed up to rescue the boys. It took nine days for the divers to find the boys and their coach. It took another eight days to rescue them all.

Nine days later, divers found all 12 boys and their coach, huddled together above the lapping water in the cave about three kilometres from the entrance. The boys had to learn how to swim and dive before they could start their journey out of the cave.

Three expert cave divers from the UK, a team of 30 divers from the US military's Indo-Pacific Command, the Thai Navy SEALS carried out the rescue. China and Australia also send experts and rescue workers.

A Navy SEAL working with the rescue team died. It was the only fatality.

Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot said Kenya is ill-prepared for such disasters, including the Likoni Channel tragedy.

“It would be good to get a report from the National disaster management Authority on the areas where we need assistance in sea, land and air disasters,” he explained.

Muhanda regretted that Kenya has formed the habit of waiting for disasters to happen and then taking action.

“We seem to be in some sort of a circus because it is only when disasters happen that we concerned authorities trying to do something,” she added.

And when former Prime Minister Raila Odinga ordered that dredging around the area should stop because it interfered with recovery efforts, his opponents were quick to criticise him.

A section of Jubilee leaders hit out at him for issuing the orders and asked the Kenya Ports Authority to ignore him in what seemed to be a never-ending nightmare for the family of the deceased.

A Swedish Scuba diver Volker Bassen said there was zero visibility making the operation daunting — and Lapsset dredging making it worse.