The Senate transport committee has recommended grounding of all unseaworthy vessels plying the Likoni Channel, warning that any further use endangers the lives of over 300,000 commuters who use the ferries daily.
This came as Kenya Ferry Services (KFS) Managing Director Bakari Gowa was at pains to give answers to ferries’ safety queries.
Gowa was subjected to hours of grilling on Thursday in Mombasa over accidents, seaworthiness of vessels, alleged illegal tendering and misuse of taxpayers’ funds at the KFS.
The senate committee also ordered that plans to put up a cable car project at the channel be suspended over accusations of KFS ineptitude.
The Kimani Wamatangi-led committee sought to know why KFS management has allowed ferry coxswains to operate without meeting competency certification as required by the Merchant Shipping Act.
In reference to a report presented by Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jr., on October 23, 2019, which established that five ferries MV Kilindini, MV Kwale, MV Nyayo, MV Harambee and MV Likoni do not meet international safety regulations, the committee charged that it was necessary for KFS management to provide answers regarding the queries raised.
“Whenever a statement is read in the floor of the House, it becomes the property of the House…I want to remind you that this committee may also have latitude to declare officers unfit to hold office. Concerns raised by the report raise very serious queries and recommended investigations be done against this service and this is part of the reasons why we are here today,” Wamatangi said.
It also emerged that a report by sacked KFS Chairman Dan Mwazo had raised mismanagement issues and recommended “shake up of the current KFS leadership.”
But Gowa defended his management team, saying most of the ferries had gone beyond their recommended 20-year lifespan and were becoming increasingly costly to maintain.
He told the committee that KFS management had done all it could to keep the ferries running by carrying out repairs, including replacing old engines and generators.
But Gowa was unable to convince the committee why vessels with sagging prows were still being allowed to ferry pedestrians and motorists notwithstanding the risks.
“Suppose there was a bigger tragedy, God forbid. What would you tell Kenyans? That you took the right steps? You can say you are lucky, we are in Kenya. If you were in China, you would be facing a firing squad, especially after the admissions you have made here on record,” said Wamatangi.
Not even Shipping and Maritime Affairs Principal Secretary Nancy Karigithu and her Transport counterpart Esther Koimett could shield the MD against tough line of questioning from the committee members.
But despite the harsh criticism and recommendation to ground the five ferries, the Senate team did not offer any solutions to Gowa on how to transport the 300,000 commuters who cross the channel daily.