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Shipping & Logistics

Ferry accident exposes dire state of marine safety rules

The government readiness to counter marine
The government readiness to counter marine disaster was exposed last week with negligence and lack of implementation of marine safety rules blamed for the accident which saw a 35-year-old Mariam Kighenda and her four-year-old daughter drown in Likoni channel. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The government readiness to counter marine disaster was exposed last week with negligence and lack of implementation of marine safety rules blamed for the accident which saw a 35-year-old Mariam Kighenda and her four-year-old daughter drown in Likoni channel.

More than a week has passed without a trace of the bodies and their vehicle which plunged into the ocean after sliding off from the ferry.

The sorry state of Kenya’s disaster preparedness has been a long-running tale.

With lack of equipment to access the 60m channel floor where the vehicle could have landed, it is clear that the government has never learned to prepare itself after the 1994 Mtongwe ferry tragedy which killed 272 commuters.

Many questions have been raised on why the government has acquired oxygen tanks which can allow divers to reach just 30m underwater yet the Likoni channel is 60m deep.

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The Kenya Ferry Services (KFS) has been accused of operating three decommissioned ferries — Mv Harambee, Mv Nyayo and Mv Kilindini — while the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA), which is mandated to license vessels to operate in the Kenyan waters, has been put on the spot for not doing its work as required, putting more than 300,000 commuters and motorists who use Likoni channel daily at risk.

Three of the five ferries plying the channel operate without clear safety measures. The ferries, for instance, do not have divers and well trained rescue team on board. In addition, their ramps dangle in water without a barrier attached at the back and front to prevent cars or other items on board from sliding into the ocean.

Having such simple safety measures in place could have prevented the car Ms Kighenda and her daughter were in during from plunging into the sea.

According to audit reports, the three ferries have turned out to be money-minting projects with more than Sh400 million being spent yearly to repair the vessels, yet there is nothing to show for such works. Bought second-hand in 1990, the three vessels do not have safety mechanisms as required by the International Safety Management (ISM). The global standards also require that vessels dry dock after 8,500 hours of operations, arule which is often flouted.

Bureaucracy is another stumbling block when disaster strike, with response from the Navy usually painfully slow.

The navy officers had to wait for orders from their seniors to move to the scene where the vehicle plunged into the ocean.

The government took charge of the search and rescue operation three days after the accident, which is a rather long time.

This is the second time the Navy has delayed to move to the scene. In 1994 Mtongwe ferry tragedy, they were also accused of failing to respond quickly. It was said had they responded fast, more people could have been saved.

Following the Sunday accident the Kenyan rescue team has been under pressure to retrieve the two bodies and the vehicle which sunk a week ago due to the planned Mashujaa Day celebrations, which will be held next to the channel.

Kenya has now turned to a South Africa rescue team.

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