Frustration sets in as navy fails to retrieve bodies from Likoni seabed

Family members and friends of Mariam Kighenda and her daughter Amanda Mutheu whose car slipped and fell into the Indian Ocean hold prayers at the Likoni Ferry channel in Mombasa County on October 10, 2019. The car is yet to be retrieved from the ocean despite being located.[Kelvin Karani, Standard]

Frustration began to set in at the Likoni Ferry crossing last evening as it became clear that two bodies and a car trapped in the seabed would not be brought to the surface as promised by Government spokesman Cyrus Oguna.

The Standard team also established that the South African divers hired by the family to assist the recovery left on Wednesday evening.

A team from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and Kenya Maritime Authority has also been taking statements from top Kenya Ferry Services officials to establish any criminal culpability following the September 29 tragedy when the car slipped from the ferry into the channel.

Reports indicate investigators have narrowed their scope to four top ferry officials, who they want charged for murder and criminal negligence.

According to the bereaved family, the South African divers left after accomplishing the task of locating the wreckage and corpses.

Reports said the private divers were displeased by a statement on Wednesday that declared the recovery effort an exclusive Kenya Navy affair without acknowledging the role by the South Africans. The county government is said to have donated Sh2 million towards the hiring of the divers.

Two other groups of private divers left the recovery efforts after allegedly disagreeing with the Kenya Navy and other State officers.

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Grieving widower

“It is very frustrating for us as a family. We do not know what is happening. It is taking too long but we have no other option other than to wait,” said a grieving widower, John Wambua.

Mr Wambua also informed The Standard that the South Africans left on Wednesday evening.

“The South African divers we hired left the country on Wednesday at 4pm after completing their task which was to locate the car,” he said.

The South Africans are employees of South African firm Sub-Sea Services.

Yesterday, retrieval exercise was undertaken by the Kenya Navy, Kenya Ports Authority, and experts from a Mombasa-based maritime firm - Southern Engineering Company (SECO) that provided the barge that was used to secure a crane and pulleys that were to be used to extract the wreckage from the seabed.

The car is believed to be trapped in a cave and lying on the side some 58 metres deep in the sea.

Yesterday, following the location of the wreckage, Oguna announced that the Navy would retrieve the corpses and the car within hours. This was revised to yesterday morning at 9am and again delayed indefinitely until darkness fell in with no clear explanation from Oguna and Principal Secretary for Transport Esther Koimett who was also on site.

As the nation, the family and dozens of onlookers waited for good news around 9am, Oguna emerged to dampen their hopes by saying the recovery had been delayed again due to movement of huge ships through the channel. He also claimed that strong undersea waves and the delicate nature of the exercise was hampering the anticipated retrieval.

"We had announced yesterday (Wednesday) that we will start the process of retrieving the car at 9am but as of now we haven't because of three compelling reasons. We don't want to interfere with normal operations at the channel you see many commuters are crossing the ferry.

"We also want to avoid by all means risking lives of our divers down there because of strong currents underneath," said Mr Oguna, as he also warned journalists not to take close-up photographs of the operations.

Recovery teams

Independent sources, however, confided in The Standard that the recovery teams are having difficulties in bringing the wreck to the surface due to lack of adequate oxygen. Last week, Oguna revealed that Kenyan divers could not plunge into the sea for more than six minutes due to lack adequate oxygen.

We also established that divers encountered difficulty in attaching the wrecked car to a cord attached to the pulleys.

Sources informed us the first attempt was successful but the cord snapped when the crane began to pull it upwards.

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Colonel Cyrus OgunaLikoni ChannelKenya NavyMariam KighendaAmanda Mutheu