Ferry transport is a key lifeline for coastal residents. However, recent safety issues raised by the Auditor General report has sent shivers down the spine of the more than 300,000 passengers and about 6,000 motorist plying the Likoni channel daily.
The report accuses the Kenya Ferry Services (KFS) of contravening International Safety Management (ISM) by failing to service its vessels as required, exposing passengers to accidents.
The report further says KFS did not meet the set ISM recommendations to ensure the vessels dry-dock after 8,500 hours of operations. Instead, Mv Likoni and Mv Kwale operating in the channel had operated for more than 30,000 hours without mandatory overhaul dry docking.
According to the audit report for the year ended 2017, most of the pulleys on most of the ferries are defective, causing the plows to be submerged in water when the ferries are moving.
The audit also revealed that the agency had not insured all ferries for third party, making it almost impossible to settle any liabilities and compensation in case of an accident.
The ominous report brings back memories of the Mtongwe ferry tragedy in 1994 where 272 people were killed. To date, the families of the victims have not been fully compensated since the vessel was not properly insured.
The KFS spent more than Sh6 million through a law firm to finalise cases arising from the Mtongwe ferry disaster but nothing has been achieved.
“At the time of audit, there was no documentary evidence of any progress made towards achieving objectives of the proposal including court applications and settlement of claims by affected persons,” stated the report
“It was therefore not clear which service was rendered by law firm and the public have not realized value for money.”
KFS Managing Director Bakari Gowa said the delay in dry docking of the ferries was due to lack of adequate funds.
“We wish to service the vessels as scheduled but the budget constraints is what is prohibiting us to meet the recommendations,” said Mr Gowa.
The committee also pressed Mr Gowa to explain how Sh417.9 million collected in the last financial year as revenue from motorists crossing the channel has been used.
It merged also that the two weighbridges that were installed on both sides of the channel and which is meant to record number of vehicles that pass at the tool stations, are not functional.
The audit also found that some crew members manning the ferries and the security personnel have no sea-time experience and have not undergone training on maritime safety.
In the past decade, there has been an increasing cases of marine accidents mostly caused by unsea-worthy vessels. Various reports indicate about 50 percent of the accidents have involved capsizing of vessels, while about 40 percent were related to drowning from vessels with low levels of compliance to maritime safety regulations.