By: MWAKERA MWAJEFA
Ms Mesaid Shindo reserves 50 minutes for crossing the Likoni channel every morning on her way to work.
To reach her workplace at Shimanzi industrial area on Mombasa Island at 7.30am, she has to be at the channel before 6am, jostle through the sea of humanity, and board the ferry.
This becomes a nightmare when one of the aged ferries — MV Nyayo, MV Harambee and MV Kilindini — breaks down.
Even with the coming of MV Kwale and MV Likoni in May 2010, the pressure on the Likoni channel has not eased, mainly because of withdrawal of ferry services at Mtongwe channel.
“Five years down the line, the two ferries look dilapidated, especially MV Likoni, which over the past two months has been turning back midstream when one of its prows malfunctions,” she adds.
Anxiety is rising as the festive season approaches — with an increase in holiday makers expected to take a toll on ferry services.
Concerns have also been raised on the quality of services that commuters receive.
The ferries serve about 300,000 commuters and 6,500 vehicles every day.
On a normal day, three ferries serve the crossing during peak hours — mornings and evenings — while two or one serve the public during the day, depending on demand.
During festive seasons, up to four ferries may be needed throughout the day.
But are the five ferries operating at the channel inspected frequently? Yes, according to the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA), the regulator of vessels in Kenya’s waters.
In its last inspection of MV Nyayo and MV Likoni on December 22, 2014, and MV Kilindini and MV Kwale on December 23, the vessels had deficiencies that required immediate attention.
Asked whether the 1990 ferries were safe for use, the KMA, through communication official Lina Jamwa, answered in the affirmative.
The authority said all ferries should go for dry-docking (repairs off water) every two years.
“MV Kilindini is already in drydock, to be followed by Harambee, Kwale and Likoni this year,” the authority said.
This comes as reports indicate that the National Treasury on Tuesday released Sh84 million required by the Kenya Ferry Services to repair worn-out ferries plying the Likoni channel.
Mr Musa Hassan Musa, the KFS managing director, had attributed the parastatal’s financial crisis to failure by Treasury to disburse the money this quarter.
“To address the transport crisis, we must operate four ferries daily,” he said. “That’s why we are using the faulty ferry. In addition, we need Sh18 million to pay the engineering firm that repaired the other ferry (MV Kilindini),” he added.
The repaired ferry, he said, would resume operations on Monday.
“We will withdraw mv Harambee for repair — including replacement of its two engines,” he noted, adding: “We have already bought the two engines at a cost of Sh18 million.”
Mr Musa said MV Harambee would be out of service for four-to-six weeks as it undergoes repair. The prow of another ferry, MV Likoni, is also to be repaired.
Last Monday, the KFS boss attributed the transport crisis at the channel to expiry of the five ferries’ lifespan more than 10 years ago.
He said a ferry usually has a lifespan of 15 years. In contrast, MV Mvita is 46 years old while MV Pwani is 40 years old.
Ferries MV Harambee, MV Kilindini and MV Nyayo were bought in 1990.
The lifespan of the other two ferries, MV Likoni and MV Kwale, will expire in 2020.
The KFS official said transport at the channel would improve if five new ferries were bought to replace the aged ones.
He said although two ferries would be bought soon at a cost of $18.6 million, they would not fully address the transport crisis since the number of passengers crossing the channel daily had soared from 60,000 in 1995 to 300,000 in 2014.
Vehicles ferried daily increased from between 2,800 and 3,000 in 2010 to 5,000 last year.
But sources within KFS doubted the repair plan, saying the firm does not have the money required.
The sources doubted the possibility of having all the ferries repaired this year.
A coxswain blamed the transport crises on mismanagement, with some managers and board directors having “partisan interests”.
“Why should the chairman of the board come to office on a regular basis if there is no sinister motive,” he asked.
He said close associations between board members and the management could influence tendering and procurement processes.
“You people (media) failed to follow up on Mombasa County Commissioner Nelson Marwa’s disclosure that cartels are controlling business here (KFS),” he said.
Mr Marwa had said: “There is a big problem with the ferry management. The MD must go!”
But two Parliamentary Transport Committee members — Changamwe MP Omar Mwinyi and Mombasa County MP Mishi Juma Mboko — gave the MD a thumbs-up.
Responding to 15 questions sent by e-mail, Mr Hassan said various activities, like expansion of the ramp on the island side, had stalled for lack of funds.
SOURCE: DAILY NATION