Remember Mtongwe Ferry Accident and Avoid a Re-enactment

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July 24, 2017

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Commuters Aboard the MV Kilindini Prepare to Disembark. CREDIT //

Commuters Aboard the MV Kilindini Prepare to Disembark. CREDIT //

If you’ve been to Mombasa, you must by now know about the ferry, which is somewhat synonymous with the town Likoni.

Driving along Mama Ngina drive AKA Light-House, you’ll have a glimpse of the congested ferry loaded with people, vehicles, bicycles and goods.

For some, the view means something else – remembrance of the ferry accident that took place in 1994.

Successive Governments promised  to build a bypass or provide new ferries.

Kenyans whole heartedly welcomed the announcement by Government of its advanced plans of importing two modern ferries from Turkey to operate at the Likoni Channel.

The introduction of the two ferries would decongest the Likoni Channel – main route for tourists moving from the North Coast and into the South to enjoy the touted white sandy beaches – through which about 5,000 vehicles and 330,000 people pass every day.

“Our team is in Turkey to inspect the progress and the construction which is complete for the first ferry. The shipment of MV Jambo will start early June and by July 27 we expect it to be at our premises. MV Safari will be delivered on November 3,” Bakari Gowa, MD for Kenya Ferry Services (KFS) announced in a past interview.

The launch of MV Jambo was, needless to say, scheduled to take place before the August 8 General Election.

But a spanner has been thrown in the works after Bonriz Insurance Marine Surveyors raised red flags.

Firstly, it alleges serious breaches in safety and quality of the Turkey-made ferries. Secondly, it suggests that an upward revision of the cost of acquisition of around KES 300m is unwarranted.

Bonriz, who had been contracted by KFS to assess the Turkey-built ferries, filed a case at a Mombasa Court under a Certificate of Urgency warning that Kenya would be importing ferries “that are in real sense vessels of mass deaths”.

When I read the words, “vessels of mass deaths”, my medial temporal lobe quickly brought to fore the heart wrenching images of the 1994 Mtongwe Ferry maritime disaster where over 270 people lost their lives.

If I haven’t missed anything about this ferry debacle, it is particularly surprising to learn that KFS moved to void the contract of Bonriz and denied its staff access to the construction site after the latter repeatedly raised concern over the quality of the vessels.

“The petitioner [Bonriz] has persistently pushed the respondent [KFS] to provide answers for why it is permitting the use of low quality materials in construction of the ferries against the express quality standards agreed in the contract with the ship builder,” it says in its claim filed in court.

On Wednesday, July 12 Justice Eric Ogola certified Bonriz’s application as urgent and temporarily barred KFS from re-advertising the tender for the provision of inspection consultancy services.

It therefore comes as a surprise that the KFS – a State Corporation under the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure –  is planning to challenge the court’s decision.

Assuming that Bonriz Insurance Marine Surveyors have made full disclosure regarding its dealings with KFS to the courts in good faith.

Further assuming that Bonriz fully met the conditions set by KFS during the tendering process and emerged as the most qualified and competitive (among other parameters) warranting KFS to award it the consultancy, the question that begs is: “Why would KFS now not believe the report and concerns raised by the company it considered the best?”

The logistics of transferring persons from point A to point B should only be conducted when all safety checks have been concluded, as it occurs in air travel. Even after the commissioning of an aircraft, it undergoes regular checks by the airlines engineers.

That notwithstanding you will notice that pilots always carry out pre-flight checks, that include ensuring the flaps on the wings are functional, among others.

While cargo can be replaced, human lives cannot. Political expediency needs not play out in such crucial matters – unless of course the country didn’t learn anything from the worst maritime accident in its history: Mtongwe, 1994.


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