NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 5 – South African divers are set to join the search for a mother and her 4-year-old daughter – the occupants of a station wagon that sunk into the ocean after it slid off a ferry last Sunday – Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia announced on Saturday.
Efforts to retrieve the bodies of 35-year-old Mariam Kigenda and her 4-year-old daughter Amanda Mutheu started Monday, a day after the tragedy but authorities have cited heavy undercurrents, bad weather and poor underwater visibility as key impediments.
Port authorities have also been unable to completely cordon off the Likoni ferry channel which cuts across the busy Kilindi Habour with a busy vessel traffic accounting for an estimated 22 million annual cargo tonnage.
Speaking at the Likoni ferry flanked by Transport Principal Secretary Esther Koimett, CS Macharia said divers from South Africa will join efforts being coordinated by the Navy.
“We’re here to tell Kenyans that all that needs to be done has been done and is being done right now. We’re collaborating with all partners; you saw an expert from Sweden, we have other experts from South Africa coming in the next few days and the Kenyan navy as well,” he told reporters in his first public appearance since the tragedy.
Macharia also said the government had inked a deal with Japan that will see the construction of a cable-stayed bridge which will resolve the commuter crisis at the Likoni crossing channel.
“We’re going to do a cable-stayed bridge. Last week the Kenyan government signed an agreement with Japan following talks between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Prime Minster Shinzō Abe at the Seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD-VII),” the CS pointed out.
A cable car facility will also be put up with a capacity to ferry 320,000 passengers daily.
Macharia said the cable car development will be undertaken in partnership with an Austrian private firm.
An additional ferry will be procured in January 2020 as a stopgap measure, he said adding three more ferries will be acquired over a period of four years.
The Sunday, September 30, ferry tragedy exposed safety inadequacies opening a floodgate of criticisms from both local leaders and members of the public who called for the resignation of Kenya Ferry Services (KFS) Managing Director Bakari Gowa and other government officials cited for inaction.
MPs Abdulswamad Nassir (Mvita), Mohamed Ali (Nyali), Mishi Mboko (Likoni) and Khatib Mwashetani (Lunga Lunga) on Wednesday demanded for the resignation of Gowa, Kenya Coast Guard Director General Brigadier Vincent Naisho and Kenya Navy Commander Levy Franklin.
The transport ministry is also on the spot over the sorry mechanical state of ferries at the Likoni crossing channel.
KFS has a fleet of six vessels – MV Harambee, MV Kilindini, MV Nyayo, MV Kwale, MV Likoni and MV Jambo – five of which, the State agency says are in operation. Four ferries are assigned to the Likoni channel, the fifth is allocated to the Mtongwe channel.
The oldest ferries – MV Mvita and MV Pwani – were acquired in 1969 and 1974, respectively. They were decommissioned after two new ferries, MV Kwale and MV Likoni, were bought in 2010.
MV Harambee, MV Nyayo and MV Kilindini, the oldest ferries in operation are unseaworthy and have been deregistered from Lloyd’s Register, an international maritime classification society.
The MV Harambee, the vessel involved in the Sunday evening tragedy had sagging ramps that were not fully retracted.
An amateur video showed the ramp dragging across the channel as the ferry made the crossing on Sunday.
The sunken station wagon at the tail end of the ferry slid off the iron floor of the vessel and dipped into the waters unfettered.
The China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) on Wednesday deployed a high-definition camera equipment to trace the location of the sunken car in what gave fresh impetus to the search operation that had hitherto relied on the divers’ sense of touch.
CCCC said it deployed a robot into the Indian Ocean to scan through the waters for the location of the sunken car after receiving a distress signal from port authorities.
The equipment has been successfully used in China where rescuers on November 1, 2018 retrieved a bus that had plunged into the Yangtze River in Chongqing Municipality on October 28, 2018.
13 bodies were retrieved after a search operation that lasted three days, China Global Television Network (CGTN) reported.