KMA suspends Lake Victoria ferry services over safety concerns

 Lake Victoria ferries

The ferries whose operations in Lake Victoria have been suspended by KMA over safety concerns.

Photo credit: George Odiwuor | Nation Media Group

Transport in Lake Victoria has been affected after the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) suspended operations of two key ferries over safety concerns.

Mbita Ferry Services Ltd, which owns the vessels, was found to have failed to comply with some maritime laws.

The two vessels, MV Mbita I and MV Mbita II, have consequently been grounded and will only be allowed back into the lake after fulfilling the KMA requirements.

The ferries play a crucial role in lake transport, connecting Homa Bay, Migori, Kisumu and Siaya counties. The vessels also transport goods, including vehicles, across the four counties.

Travelers and traders who relied on the vessels for transport now have to seek alternative means to move across the lake, some which may be risky. Those affected often ply the Siaya and Homa Bay route.

MV Mbita I connects Mfangano and surrounding islands to Mbita town in Homa Bay County.

MV Mbita II operates between Mbita town in Homa Bay County and Lwanda Kotieno trading centre in Siaya County.

The vessels also ferry tourists who visit different beaches along the lake.

KMA Director of Maritime Safety Jeremiah Ojowi, in a letter to the management of the ferry company, halted its operations from December 21.

Vessels detained

“The two vessels have therefore been detained and not allowed to sail until the deficiencies are rectified. The ships are not allowed to sail from Mbita Shipway until the deficiencies are rectified,” read the letter.

The management of Mbita Ferry Services Ltd has described some of the requirements by KMA as minor, which did not warrant suspension of its services.

Mr Shadrack Kipchumba, a manager at the company, said some of the issues could be corrected as the vessels continue with operations.

Among others, KMA requires installation of watertight door rubber seal which prevents entry of water into the vessel in case of an accident.

“They are very small issues which should not deter us from operating. We appeal to the KMA to allow us to operate as we fix the issues,” the company manager said.

The company also asked the government for leniency on other requirements, citing high costs.

Master’s degree captains

The company is also required to employ captains with a Master’s degree.

Mr Kipchumba said they charge Sh150 per individual crossing the lake, which cannot cater for a salary of a captain with a Master’s Degree.

"The business community and passengers are already feeling the pinch of the suspension. KMA should be lenient and allow us to operate," Mr Kipchumba said.

Among traders already feeling the pinch is Ms Florence Samo, a fish monger in Mbita, who says her business has suffered.

"We are stranded because our main means of transport between Siaya and Homa Bay has been suspended,” Ms Samo said.

She regretted that the suspension came during the festive season when traders expected to make high returns.

Traders have appealed to the government to intervene and allow the ferries to operate to support their businesses.

“Suspending water transport seriously impacts on our business activities. We appeal to the government to lift the suspension so that people can travel,” Mr Hesbond Dondi, a welder in Mbita, said.