Islanders’ pain as two ferries remain suspended over safety

One of the vessels operated by Mbita ferry services. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

The indefinite suspension of ferry services on Lake Victoria has plunged residents of islands on the lake into an economic turmoil.

The worst hit is Mfangano Island in Homa Bay County. The county has the biggest portion of the lake in Nyanza.

On December 21, the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) suspended the operations of Mbita Ferry Services Ltd, the company that owns two ferries that run between islands on Lake Victoria.

The two ferries are MV Mbita I, which operates between Mfangano and Mbita town, and MV Mbita II, which operates between Mbita town and Lwanda Kotieno trading centre in Siaya County.

KMA’s Director of Maritime Safety Jeremiah Ojowi instructed the company’s management to dock the ferries until it comes up with proper security measures.

“The two vessels have, therefore, been detained and will not be allowed to sail until the deficiencies are rectified,” Mr Ojowi said in a letter to the company.

Now, islanders are counting losses as business on the island plummets. Even government services have been affected.

Arising from the suspension of the ferries, Mfangano island will soon have to contend with lack of electricity, which is expected to hurt businesses.

Kenya Power has warned that there will be power outages on islands such as Mfangano due to lack of diesel if the suspension of the ferries is not lifted in the next three weeks.

The diesel is usually transported by tankers which have to use the ferry to access the island from Mbita town.

Ojowi asserted that Kenya Power cannot install transformers on the island since the machine used to hoist them must come from the mainland.

“Our power station depends on diesel. If we don’t get diesel in the next three weeks, we will be in a crisis,” said Moses Abasa, the officer in charge of Mfangano Power Station.

Fredrick Ojwang’, a proprietor of an engineering firm in Nairobi, travelled to Mfangano last Christmas to celebrate with his family and clan.

He hired two cars from Nairobi on December 17 so that he and his friends could tour the island during the festive season.

The journey from Nairobi was successful. He arrived home well and began celebrations. Mr Ojwang’ was, however, to suffer the inconvenience of the ferry suspension.  

He was expected to return to Nairobi on December 22, but the ferry suspension directive found him still enjoying his holiday.

Ojwang’ is now stuck with the hired vehicles on Mfangano. He hired each car for Sh6,000 a day. This translates to Sh12,000 a day for the two vehicles.

So far, the amount has accumulated to Sh348,000. “Let the government lift the suspension. I would have left these vehicles here if they were mine,” Ojwang’ lamented.

Shadrack Kipchumba, a manager of Mbita Ferry Services Ltd,  said the company was working on the issues which were pointed out by KMA to ensure compliance.

He said the ferries are likely to resume end of this week, or early next week, depending on availability of the materials that they ordered for repair of the vessels.

“We have decided to undertake 100 per cent compliance. If the materials are delivered on time, we will resume our services this week but if they are delivered late, we will resume next week,” Kipuchumba said.

“It is a true that most of our customers have suffered due to this problem but all will be well soon.”

Mfangano MCA Okwach Oranga said the suspension impedes implementation of government projects in the area.

There are many roads whose construction will be affected because the ferry services were suspended.

Homa Bay Woman Rep Gladys Wanga called on the government to lift the restriction. She argued that the problems noticed in the ferries can be rectified gradually by the management.

Wanga has petitioned the government to bring a public ferry into Lake Victoria. “This will be crucial for the local economy,” she said.