NAIROBI: On any given day, crossing the Likoni Channel is not for the faint-hearted. That is if the stampede out of the ferries at the end of the 500m journey says something at all or the glum looks of those boarding at the other end. Yet 300,000 people and 3,000 vehicles cross from the mainland to Mombasa each day.
The ageing fleet of seven ferries are prone to mechanical breakdowns. And so it was again on Friday when Kenya Ferry Services (KFS) flagship vessel Mv Nyayo carrying more than 1,500 people developed an engine problem and lost speed before it started drifting toward the high seas.
To the relief of distraught passengers, Mv Kilindini (another ageing ferry) came to the rescue towing it safely to the Mbaraki Wharf and later the KFS jetty for repair. Sadly, this is not for the first time, maybe not for the last time.
Other than inconveniences the frequent breakdowns cause, the real danger of an accident waiting to happen is obvious. The ferries glide across the path of Cargo ships coming to dock at the Kilindini Harbour and God forbid were there to be a collision.
In April, 1994, MV Mtongwe bound for the mainland capsized in the channel killing 272 of the 400 people on board. That should never happen again. There have been efforts to modernise the fleet.
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Two new ferries were bought from Germany in 2010 at a cost of Sh1 billion yet the congestion still occurs and danger still lurks. There are plans for two more ferries to be delivered this year from Turkey.
These efforts are laudable, but are not sustainable in the long run. Given the rigorous servicing and maintenance demanded of a ferry, an overpass like the Sh2 billion, 400 meters Nyali Bridge offers a better option. And the time to do that is now. A cost benefit analysis between investing in an overpass and a new ferry could be the place to start.