Who is sinking Mombasa ferry services and why?

Ferry crossing from Likoni mainland to Mombasa ramp in Mombasa County. [Maarufu Mohamed, Standard]

Constant breakdown of ferries at the Mombasa Port has come under sharp focus even as locals seek safer alternative transport means.

After months of relative smooth operations across the channel, things hit another snag when one of the ferries, Mv Nyayo, broke down after its fuel pipe burst midstream. Before that, she had broken down twice in the last two weeks.

This state of affairs triggered public protest from locals who depend on the vessel for their daily commute.

Despite the public outrage, the vessel remains idle alongside Mv Jambo, that had been in operation for a few months but stopped after a clutch problem. Also pulled aside and resting is Mv Kwale.

Made in Turkey and worth Sh Sh1.05 billion, Mv Jambo, was the newest ferry at the port, until it suffered a mechanical problem.

Further compounding the problem is the stoppage of the sole ferry at Mtongwe, which helps ease the pressure at Likoni. The Mtongwe ferry had been launched with much fanfare by President Kenyatta early last year, but now there is little to write home about. With things now falling apart, the Kenya Ferry Services officials are smelling sabotage. In the last few weeks, they have been holding individual staff to account as they try to dig the root cause of the problem.

“It is now the procedure that anybody who allows the ferries to ground must be investigated and be possibly disciplined,” Managing Director Bakari Gowa said.

Gowa said two ferry staff- a coxwain and an operation officer- were ‘removed’ from the channel pending investigations into why Mv Likoni stalled on the ramp a week ago causing a commotion at the channel. He insisted that to drive accountability, any staff who allows ferries to ground on the ramps or cause any other operational hitches must be held accountable. Two years ago, three top managers- including MD Hassan Musa Hassan- were sacked following a visit on the channel by President Kenyatta.

New ferry

He was later replaced by Gowa, who enjoyed a season of peace and tranquillity as services improved and a new ferry was unveiled. The ferry stalling has been bad for business. Sam Ikwaye, executive officer of the Kenya Association of Hotel-keepers and Caterers, said the tourism players have now been forced to make alternative arrangements including embarking on early trips and using direct flights to Diani Tourist Resort to beat congestion at the Likoni channel.

However, this has cost implications. He said it was expensive for tourists to connect Diani beach by flights and demanded improved ferry services. He however commended the KFS management for improving cooperation with ferry users by promptly informing them about vessel breakdowns.  “We are not condemning the ferry management. It has improved cooperation with users and we usually make alternative arrangements whenever there is a problem,” Ikwaye said.

Another ferry user Mr Emmanuel Kadenge called for a review for the tender for repair of the vessels and improve business processes.

 Coordinator of the Seafarers Assistance Program  Mr Andrew Mwangura called for increased funding.

 “The Justice Msagha Mbogholi judiciary commission of inquiry into the 1994 Mtongwe ferry accident recommended for adequate funding to the ferry operations at Likoni but the report has not been implemented,” Mwangura said.

Additionally, Mwangura called for change of attitude among the the KFS staff.