Sh600m sunk into ferry repairs in three years, but they remain death traps - Beaking Kenya News

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Saturday, 5 October 2019

Sh600m sunk into ferry repairs in three years, but they remain death traps

Likoni channel
The Kenya Ferry Services (KFS) has spent over Sh600 million on repairs and maintenance of its vessels over the past three years, although half of them remain unsafe.
Since 2016, the agency has spent more than Sh400 million on three previously decommissioned ferries. Part of these costs went into refurbishing two of the ferries, the MV Kilindini and MV Harambee, but the two still lack the basic safety requirements.
SAFETY MECHANISM
The KFS discreetly suspended services in the Mtongwe channel on Wednesday evening, in the wake of the Likoni ferry tragedy, where a woman and her daughter perished after their vehicle plunged into the sea. The MV Kwale (pictured below), which operates in Mtongwe, failed to return for the evening service on Wednesday. More than 10,000 users were forced to use the Likoni channel.
The Saturday Nation has learnt that Mtongwe ferry services were halted following a faulty pontoon on the island side of the channel. The landing platform has been in use for months despite being defective. KFS Managing Director Bakari Ngowa Friday confirmed to the Saturday Nation that the withdrawal of the ferry services was to allow for the repair of the pontoon and the gangways.
“The works to repair the pontoons and the gangways on both side of the channel are to start anytime from now,” Mr Ngowa said.
Bought in 1990 as second-hand vessels, the Harambee, Nyayo and Kilindini are some of Kenya’s oldest ferries. With rusty ramps dangling in water, the Harambee does not have a safety mechanism, contravening International Safety Management (ISM) regulations, which require all vessels to be seaworthy and dry-dock after 8,500 hours of operations.
DRY DOCKING
In the 2017/2018 audit report, the Auditor General raised safety issues that shocked the more than 300,000 passengers and over 6,000 motorists plying the Likoni channel every day. The report accused KFS of failing to service its vessels as required. It further noted that the Likoni and Kwale had been operating in the channel for more than 35,000 hours without the mandatory overhaul dry-docking. The report indicated that most of the pulleys were defective, causing the prows to be submerged in water whenever the ferries were moving.
The chair of the National Assembly’s Public Investments Committee, Abdullswamad Nassir (Mvita), said the issues raised in the audit report were never acted on even after top officials at the Transport ministry were notified.
“We are going to recommend administrative action against these officials who failed to act on the looming danger. The audit report laid bare the dangers posed to commuters but someone ignored this. They now need to take responsibility for this omission,” the lawmaker said.
10-YEAR LIFESPAN
In December 2016, the national government pumped Sh143.5 million into the repair of the Harambee at the African Marine and General Engineering Company shipyard in Likoni to give it a 10-year lifespan. The vessel had been decommissioned in 2015 due to its unseaworthiness but underwent an overhaul.
“The vessel is now in good condition after undergoing repairs with funding from the national government,” KFS Managing Director Bakari Ngowa said then. “It is anticipated that a refurbished Harambee will improve efficiency and reduce congestion at the channel.”
Since then, the ferry has undergone several other repairs, gobbling up tens of millions of shillings, but remains unsafe.
Now, Mr Ngowa says they will start a fresh programme of repairs for the five vessels, as they await new ones in the next five years.
ALTERNATIVIES
“We will repair the existing ferries as we plan to replace old ones. We need at least one and half years to repair all the ferries,” he said.
Transport and Infrastructure Cabinet Secretary James Macharia told the Saturday Nation that they are now prioritising the construction of the Mwache Bridge, the Likoni cable car project and eventually the Likoni Gate Bridge as alternatives to the ferries, which have become too expensive to keep on the waters.
“The President will this month launch the construction of the Mwache Bridge, which will allow those heading for the South Coast a shorter route as opposed to using the ferry. We are also at an advanced stage with the Likoni cable car project as Kenha has already identified land,” Mr Macharia said.
KFS last year signed an agreement with Trapos Ltd for the Likoni Cable Car Project, linking the South Coast to the Mombasa island.
NON-EXISTENT
In March, KFS said it had spent Sh172 million to renovate the Kilindini and Harambee, barely 10 months after they had been repaired, raising questions about the extent of the repairs done during the last dry-docking.
The state agency used Sh110 million to rehabilitate the old Kilindini, which was taken out of service for the better part of 2018, while the rest was spent on the Harambee.
The 29-year-old Kilindini had 70 per cent of its deck replaced with new material. New prows were supplied from Tanzania by Songoro Marine Transport after another firm, Dresden Laubegast, lost the tender to supply spare parts.
KFS’s 2018 financial reports show that the cost of ferry insurance increased to Sh68 million from Sh53 million, due to the acquisition of a sixth vessel. The cost of security services also rose from Sh53 million in 2017 to Sh70 million in 2018. KFS also allocated Sh4 million for maintenance of safety equipment, which is said to be non-existent.
WASHED AWAY
Last month, the parastatal announced that it would repair the landing platforms at Mtongwe, their pillars and the gangways at a cost of Sh28 million.
The agency said the ferry services in the Mtongwe channel would be halted for six months to allow for the revamping of the facilities. The work starts this month and is expected to end by March next year.
But the announcement was met with resistance from ferry users.
Repairs to the pontoons and gangways are temporary measures, as KFS says it plans to put up ramps to allow vehicles to use the channel, which is now used only by pedestrians.
The last time the pontoons were repaired was in 2013, according to information from KFS.
The island side pontoon was washed away by ocean waters in June 2017 in an incident that sparked safety concerns among users.
In 1994, more than 270 people died in a ferry disaster at Mtongwe in one of Kenya’s worst maritime tragedies

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