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Maritime authority: Don’t blame us for ferry tragedy that killed mum, daughter

By Brian Ocharo September 2nd, 2022 3 min read

The Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) has distanced itself from the deficiencies on the MV Harambee ferry that led to a woman, Mariam Kighenda, and her four-year-old daughter Amanda Mutheu, dying at the Likoni channel on September 29, 2019.

A report presented in court indicates that the authority had identified defects on the vessel and advised the Kenya Ferry Services (KFS) to correct them before it resumes operations.

Appearing before Mombasa Chief Magistrate Martha Mutuku, former KMA Director General George Nyamoko said it was the responsibility of KFS to ensure passenger safety of the vessel before use.

“I don’t think KMA failed as a regulator. It is the responsibility of the vessel owner to ensure compliance with safety measures,” he told an inquest into the death of Ms Kighenda and her daughter.

The two died after their vehicle slipped from the faulty vessel and plunged into the Indian Ocean less than seven minutes into the journey.

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Kighenda had parked the vehicle on the right side of the ferry. The accident occurred midstream as the vessel was taking passengers from Mombasa mainland to the Island.

It took 13 days before the bodies were retrieved 45 metres to the sea bed.

Mr Nyamoko pointed out that the deficiencies in the ferry had been noted in an inspection carried out on February 6, 2019, seven months before the tragedy.

According to the witness, the faults identified were addressed and a seaworthiness certificate was issued by the agency.

“The anomalies were addressed, but I attribute the accident to the age of the ferry and lack of constancy in maintaining the vessel,” he said.

Following the accident, Mr Nyamoko said, the vessel was re-inspected on October 15, 2019.

Mariam Kighenda and her daughter Amanda Mutheu drowned in the Indian Ocean three weeks ago.

In this re-inspection, various equipment was found onboard including life jackets, life buoys and rigid life rafts, which are used in case of an emergency.

However, the former DG said the service for a number of portable fire extinguishers onboard was found to be overdue since August 2019.

“Forward and aft prows were found to be non-operational due to failure of the hydraulic lifting system and the aft prow flaps corroded. The Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) were not presented during the inspection,” he said.

The witness also told the inquest that the coxswain in charge of the ferry holds a coxswain certificate issued under Section 128 of the Harbour Regulations of 1970, which were revoked by the Merchant Shipping (Training and Certification) Regulations, 2016.

The report, which Mr Nyamoko tabled in court, also suggested that onboard staff assisting passengers require training on crowd management.

“Further, note that a number of defects noticed during re-inspection, KFS was advised to correct critical ones before the ferry resumes operations,” he said.

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Some of the defects required immediate attention while others required to be corrected within 14 days from the date of re-inspection.

He also mentioned that some of the critical issues with the vessels were not brought to the attention of the authority through written communication as required by the law.

“Partly I can attribute flipping of the vehicle to non-lifting of the prows. The safe distance while parking inside the vessel should be observed. If this was observed, the unfortunate incident couldn’t have happened because the driver would have had enough time to respond to the reversing vehicle,” he said.

The certificate of examination and test of the vehicle produced by the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) in court showed the parking brake of the vehicle was engaged, wiper blade and arms engaged (on) maximum speed.

“No pre-accident defects noted,” said the report.

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In June, the inquest was told that faulty prows that could not be lifted were to blame for the accident.

The prow is the pointed or projected part of a ferry vessel located at both ends. Its key function is to provide necessary buoyancy to prevent burying the vessel in the sea and for loading vehicles and passengers.

Mr Kennedy Mukhebu, an engineering technician at the KFS disclosed that the prows had been dysfunctional, and static and were just set above the water level.

The witness also ruled out rough water as having played a role in causing the accident.

KFS Managing Director Bakari Gowa had also acknowledged the safety measures of MV Harambee were not in place during the accident.

He however blamed the lack of funds for the defects that the ferries were facing at the time.

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