Disaster looms at Likoni channel as heavy vehicles, commuters jam into ferries

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Thousands of lives at risk at the Likoni crossing channel as two Sh26.8 million weighbridges at both ends are not used to control the number of vehicles getting into the ferries.

Daily rush-hour commuters and vehicles are jammed in a single vessel, oblivious of the lurking danger due to weight.

In 2016, Auditor General Edward Ouko warned of a disaster if the trend continues.

“Further, management indicated that the bridges were a control measure to enhance safety by estimating the weight of vehicles boarding ferries at the channel,” Ouko said in the June report.

“However, there was no evidence that weights of vehicles measured through the weighbridges were used to control the number of vehicles that board the ferries.”

On April 29, 1994, one of the deadliest marine accidents in Kenya struck at Mtongwe channel. MV Mtongwe ferry, bound for the mainland, capsized just 40 meters from port, leaving 272 of the 400 people on board dead.

Investigations revealed that the vessel carried weights above the limit, probably 10 times its capacity.

“WEIGHBRIDGE DESIGNED MOSTLY FOR BILLING”

On Friday, Kenya Ferry Services Managing Director Bakari Gowa said some of the safety measures and findings were “impossible” and “debatable”.

“You can’t know the weight of the people and that of what they are carrying. So it is not very possible to use the bridge for control,” he said in a phone interview.

About 300,000 commuters and 6,000 vehicles cross the channel daily.

KFS  has continued to operate faulty vessels that breakdown frequently and drifts deep sea.

There have been proposals to increase the number of fleets but the quay length won’t allow this. In 2010, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee was told the bulk of the land for expansion was grabbed.

A longer quay will hold up to four ferries at a go instead of the current two. This will drastically reduce congestion, further ease pressure on the old ferries and allow for major repairs.

“The biggest problem is one of operational capacity that is unmatched by high demand. The ferries have been overwhelmed by the demand for services as a result of an increase in population and vehicle numbers,” Kenya Maritime Director General, Nancy Karigithu, now PS Maritime, said in 2010.

Currently, only four ferries – MVs Likoni, Nyayo, Jambo and Kilindi – are operational. MVs Kwale and Harambee broke down four months ago.

Gowa said the weighbridge was designed to mostly bill and that it will be it impossible to weigh before boarding during rush times unless three other bridges are established.

“We have open and closed ferries. Open ones are used to carry heavy vehicles while closed one take light ones. We know the capacity of each vessel,” Gowas said.

A new ferry – MV Safari – is expected in Kenya by August as the Appeal court allowed completion of construction in Turkey.

The ferry was to arrive in November last year but the High Court in August suspended its construction pending the determination of a case challenging its procurement.

A Sh80 billion Likoni bridge will be built after four years when a feasibility study is completed.

Inventory of assets to be affected has been done; 902 structures will be demolished to pave way for the construction.

Commuters will have to brave the dangerous crossing until the bridge is in place.

KFS’ precarious financial status is also hurting its operations. The parastatal is not subject to taxation but the AG said it is making losses.

Ouko said KFS was not using the weighbridges to charge for use of its ferries by vehicles.

“Although the weighbridges were integrated with the revenue system, they are practically idle assets,” he said.

But Gowa trashed the statement.

“That is an opinion that is debatable.  [Not all vehicles pass through the bridge] because of the sensitivity of the service,” he said.

The MD said they have a parallel billing system that helps de-congest the ferry. It takes 20 seconds to serve one vehicle, he noted.

During that year, Ouko said KFS had a deficit of Sh913 million.

“Income from operations reduced to Sh410,742,000 in the year under review from Sh 441,442,000 during the year 2014-2015,” he said.

He said the KFS lacked equipment and means of measuring vehicle length to establish the appropriate charges to be levied on its customers.

This contravenes Vehicle Toll Charges Amendment Rules, 2013 which provide that the company’s levies should be based on the length of the vehicles carried in its ferries.

Ouko said it was impossible to confirm income from operations.

“Under the circumstance, the financial performance of the company is precarious and if strategies are not put in place to reverse the trend, the company will experience financial challenges in future.”

Story courtesy of The Star 

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