‘I jumped out of overloaded Mombasa boat before it capsized’

Boat capsized at Pirates Beach

Rescue operation at the Jomo Kenyatta Public Beach, also known as Pirate's Beach, after a boat with a family of four capsized at the beach.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

Like many Kenyans, the coast was one of the most preferred travel destinations for Mohammed Kassam’s family during Christmas festivities.

And after a whole year of planning, 12 of his family members made their way to Mombasa for the holidays.

On Christmas Day, they decided to make a trip to cruise the Indian Ocean on a boat from the Jomo Kenyatta public beach.

Their trip was not to end in Mombasa since they had plans to proceed to Malindi and then Lamu.

Little did they know that it would be a life-changing moment where two of their relatives would die in a grisly boat accident.

Umer Kardernani, a survivor of the accident that happened after the boat capsized, remembers vividly the events of the day.

Fearing for his safety, he had asked about life jackets from the boat operator but was assured that all will be well and there was nothing to worry about.

He said there were nine members of the same family on board.

"We were excited to get to the boat and explore the deep sea. We even asked about the life jackets but the person in charge informed us not to worry since we would be back safely. We trusted him," he said.

It did not take long before the waves started becoming stronger, destabilising the now overloaded boat that had his family members.

Minutes later, a horror of commotion occurred at the beach as life savers, Kenya Red Cross volunteers and other operators rushed to the ocean to save occupants.

"We struggled in the water for almost 25 minutes calling for help. We experienced something no one should go through,” he explained.

For Mr Kassam, a last-minute decision to forcefully jump out of the boat which he thought was overloaded turned out to be a lifesaving moment.

"I jumped out of the boat together with my grandchild and one son-in-law. We raised concerns that people were overloaded in the boat, but the captain insisted it was okay and that we should proceed with the trip. I forcefully jumped out since he had refused to let me get down," said Mr Kassam.

After the three disembarked from the boat, nine of the other family members proceeded with the trip.

Minutes later, the boat capsized.

The family is now mourning two members while one is fighting for life in the ICU.

Following the incident, the Mombasa County Government deployed seven patrol boats as a measure to enhance security of the visitors and residents along all the public beaches.

“Four of the boats will be at the Jomo Kenyatta Public Beach due to the high number of people frequenting there. One boat at the Island and the rest are to be deployed across the Likoni areas. Each of the boats will have a Kenya Coast Guard and lifeguard officers,” said Governor Abdulswamad Nassir.

The county government also announced it has recruited 2,000 young people to serve as beach and traffic marshals, lifeguards and tour guides.

Cabinet Secretary for Mining, Blue Economy and Maritime Affairs Salim Mvurya also announced new measures to promote the safety of holidaymakers while at the coast including the closure of all activities at the beach by 5.30pm.

The CS also banned the consumption of alcohol on all beaches.

"We have gotten reports of people who swim at the beach while drunk. This is dangerous because they are risking their own life. We will not allow it," he said.

Boat operators using reflectors instead of life jackets were also issued with a stern warning.

In the Sunday evening incident, the family of 12 from Nairobi lost two of their relatives, a man and a woman. One member is still in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) according to Mombasa Red Cross Chairperson Mahmoud Noor.

Infants aged between three and five months, who were part of the family during the incident, are in stable condition.