Why Mombasa residents still prefer Likoni ferry over Liwatoni bridge

Likoni Channel

The Liwatoni Floating Bridge in Mombasa January 8, 2021. 

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

When President Uhuru Kenyatta commissioned the Sh1.9 billion Likoni Floating Bridge in Mombasa in 2020, the congestion problem at the channel ferry crossing was expected to be a thing of the past.

Its construction saw some Mombasa residents and tourists praising the 1.2 kilometre bridge, highlighting Kenya’s infrastructural developments.

It was launched at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, with security agents telling residents they had to use the bridge as one way of curbing the spread of the virus.

The bridge from Liwatoni to Bofu opened to the public on Christmas Day and hundreds seized the opportunity to take photos to capture the moment.

Nearly 300,000 pedestrians and 6,000 vehicles cross the Likoni channel daily, with peak hours particularly chaotic.

A first of its kind in east and central Africa, the bridge has a six-metre-wide deck and a 715-metre floating section.

The middle section has a 150-metre movable gate that opens and shuts when ships enter and leave the port through the channel.

Two years later, pedestrians interviewed by the Nation lamented that the bridge is too far.

To get to it, one has to either walk or board a boda boda.

The additional transport expenses to get to the bridge have been cited among the reasons preventing pedestrians from using it.

Ms Faiza Binti said it is hectic for her to use the bridge.

“We had raised the issue of setting up a shade but the government turned a blind eye to it. At least they would have considered setting up benches along the walking path for one to rest. A pregnant woman who lives near the bridge cannot use it, because it is a long walk. She would have to use the shorter ferry route,” Ms Binti said.

Mr Emmanuel Kazungu said: “Why would I pay Sh50 for the matatu to ferry me to the floating bridge when I can pay Sh20 for the same vehicle to the ferry crossing. Another issue is that the rainy season does not favour us, not everyone has an umbrella.”

Last April, the footbridge developed a mechanical problem posing a danger to those using it.

The problem was the shearing of a winch coupling, which saw the pontoons fail to close entirely and leaving a gap of about one metre. 

Though engineers rectified the problem quickly, residents refrained from using the bridge, causing congestion at the channel crossing.

This has in turn created pressure on the available ferries.

At one point, the ferries MV Likoni and MV Jambo crashed into each other following congestion by pedestrians after a mechanical failure.

This resulted in the MV Likoni losing one of its exit doors while stalling in the middle of the ocean for more than 45 minutes.

The MV Likoni, which was fully packed with more than 500 passengers, was later towed to land by the MV Safari.

Passengers complained, demanding that the Kenya Ferry Service (KFS) and local leaders take responsibility and resolve the issue.

“The government should take responsibility and realise that they are putting the lives of hundreds of people at risk with these faulty ferries,” said Peter Munyasya.

The situation also caused a traffic snarl-up on the island and mainland sides in Likoni, with motorists waiting long hours to board the ferry.

Avoiding the bridge means congestion at the crossing has returned with the end of Covid-19 movement restrictions on the population.

A month earlier, 11 people were injured in a stampede prompted by a shortage of ferries.

They were hurt in the scramble to board the available vessel.

A group of impatient ferry users disregarded instructions and safety guidelines and forced the barriers open before they were given the green light to board, said Kenya Ports Authority spokesman Bernard Osero. 

He noted that the bridge operates between 3am and 8am, and from 4pm-8pm.

“Most of the passengers spend their time at Mama Ngina Waterfront Park until after the bridge hours [and are] left with the only option, the channel ferry crossing,” he said. 

“We shall continue sensitising passengers on the need to observe safety guidelines all the time to avoid such uncalled-for incidents.”