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Three ferries are not fit to float, House team told

By Moses Njagih | October 30th 2019
Kenya Ferry Services (KFS) Managing Director Bakari Gowa when he appeared before the National Assembly Public Investment Committee on audit queries at Parliament. [Boniface Okendo/Standard]

Thousands of ferry users have been putting their lives in the hands of unqualified coxswains who have been steering death traps across the Likoni and Mtongwe channels in Mombasa, a parliamentary team has been told.

The National Assembly Public Investment Committee (PIC) yesterday heard that an international maritime body that checks on the standards and safety of sea-going vessels had declared that three ferries were not seaworthy.

The internationally acclaimed Lloyd’s Register, the lawmakers were informed, had found the ferries to be obsolete and decommissioned them in 2007.

Kenya Ferry Services (KFS) Managing Director Bakari Gowa also told the Abdulswamad Nassir-led committee that none of the coxswains operating the vessels met the current regulations required to run a ferry.

The PIC heard that the coxswains held certificates that met standards set in the 1970s.

Dr Gowa said that although the Government had come up with new regulations in 2016, none of the coxswains met these requirements.

“There is no institution in Kenya that can train coxswains to the levels required. So we only have those with the certificates required under the old regulations,” said Gowa.

The decommissioning of the ferries by Lloyd’s Register meant that KFS was supposed to withdraw MV Harambee, MV Nyayo and MV Kilindini from service.

MV Harambee was recently at the centre of a tragedy where its prows failed to prevent a car from sliding into the ocean, leading to the deaths of Mariam Kighenda and her daughter Amanda Mutheu.

The parliamentary committee heard that KFS came up with a plan to keep the ferries in service. They made some repairs to the vessels and opted to have them certified by the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA), which is the local regulator.

By doing so, they managed to cheat the strict international certification process.

Gowa disclosed that the three ferries were over 30 years old yet the maritime classification standards state that such vessels are only serviceable for 20 years.

Board disbanded

Homa Bay Woman Representative Gladys Wanga said that from the revelations, there was no justification why senior KFS managers were still in office especially after President Uhuru Kenyatta recently disbanded the board.

“The way these questions that speak to lives of millions are being answered really shows why the board is home. They (managers) should also be home,” said Ms Wanga.

Kaloleni MP Paul Katana took the management to task for failing to admit that the ferries should not be in the water, saying they had been placing the lives of Kenyans at risk for 12 years.

“The reason you were given was that the vessels were already unseaworthy. Then even after that in 2016/2017, the Auditor General warned you that this (continued ferry operations) was a disaster-in-waiting yet you have done nothing,” said Mr Katana.

Mr Nassir said there was a risk that after a serious incident at sea, the vessels' insurer would not compensate the victims.

“God forbid if there was to be an accident. The insurance companies would just run away and say that you were operating vessels that are condemned, which should have been pulled out of the water 12 years ago, and are being operated by unseaworthy operators.

“But most importantly, KMA will have to tell us why they gave you certification knowing that the vessels were in this poor state and there were many other challenges with your operations,” said Nassir.

Gowa, however, told the committee that they had raised the challenges of their operations, including the need to replace the vessels, with the Transport ministry but nothing much had been done.

“We have done a lot of repairs on the ferries. In 2016, MV Harambee had its engine replaced while major works were also done on MV Kilindini, including the overhaul of its engine system. Subsequently, seaworthiness certification was granted by KMA,” said Gowa.

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