Likoni is a disaster-in-waiting

PHOTO | GIDEON MAUNDU A partially sub-merged lorry at the Likoni ferry crossing on January 27 2013. The truck killed at least four and injured many more others after its brakes failed at the steep incline on the mainland side of the crossing.

What you need to know:

  • For pedestrians, the ferry is a tightly corralled nightmare. There is jostling and groping. Hacking coughs, sweaty palms... and you are all armpit-to-nostril. The holding pens for pedestrians always have a preacher whose sermons are tailored to last just long enough until the next ferry approaches. Yep, your 15 minutes of salvation

A lorry at the Likoni ferry crossing recently went out of control and ploughed into a crowd, killing several people and injuring dozens more. The descent to the ramp on the mainland side of the crossing is particularly steep, and there are no barriers for vehicles. An ordinary barrier probably would not do. They would need one that can stop a large lorry that has lost its brakes, but such a barrier would take time to move into and out of place, slowing down traffic.

There is even greater danger during disembarking. The rules of carriage that give motorists right of way are not followed, and it is difficult to enforce the rule because usually the public slips through the bars separating it from vehicles and walks out as the ferry docks. Often, vehicles have to contend with pedestrians impatient to get off the ferry as they negotiate the steep incline.

Likoni is caught between two competing interests: security and efficiency. But efficiency will always win out, unless someone changes this or something drastic happens. The ferries need to move passengers as fast as possible, especially during peak times. As for security, the volume of traffic — some 200,000 people are estimated to use the crossing daily — makes thorough searches a logistical nightmare.

Likoni is a disaster waiting to happen. Most of the warnings to pedestrians are made from the public address system and, predictably, are often ignored. The cut off for the number of passengers is, wait for this, the gate keepers. This method is inefficient and does not do individual counts, thus often leading to overloading. In case of an accident, rescuers would no know how many people to search for.

The road towards modernising Likoni is filled with long strings of broken promises and unfulfilled grand plans. The President, while at the Coast in 2010, asked the civil service to find a more permanent solution to the crossing. The Dongo Kundu bypass seems to be the only plausible solution as it will divert some of the traffic there, easing the congestion at Likoni.

For pedestrians, the ferry is a tightly corralled nightmare. There is jostling and groping. Hacking coughs, sweaty palms... and you are all armpit-to-nostril. The holding pens for pedestrians always have a preacher whose sermons are tailored to last just long enough until the next ferry approaches. Yep, your 15 minutes of salvation. Perhaps it is the best time to reflect upon your life on earth when you are boarding the ferry.

All possible comfort has been stripped away, except the lone soda salesman to further the cause of diabetes. There are pitifully few places to sit, but perhaps that is because it is a short trip. Except when it is not a short trip and the ferry stalls midstream. Then it begins its slight sideways drift and you sense the panic. The passengers have every right to worry, though. They are well aware that, should anything go wrong, there are nowhere near enough flotation devices for those on board.

They did fit security systems. Turnstiles, to be precise. But during the last Kenya Ferry Services strike, the protesting public vandalised the system. By early January, the turnstiles were not yet replaced. Smart, is it not? Going on the rampage and vandalising the very security system that should protect you, especially if you use the ferry regularly. It is the equivalent of smoking when you have cancer. Or running a ferry where the pedestrians are squeezed together in this era of drug-resistant TB.

The vandalism is not limited to security equipment. A man was also recently hauled before a court for pilfering a lifesaver from the ferry. Such saboteurs really ought to face a firing squad.

Six years ago, this newspaper reported that two ferries currently in operation had been deregistered from the Lloyd Maritime Register, an independent risk management agency. Seaworthy vessels remain registered with it until they are sunk or decommissioned. Being removed from the register implies that a ship is uninsurable.

But despite being struck off from the book of seafaring life, they have stubbornly refused to shuffle the mortal coil. Every time the ferries stall, a suture and a welder are brought forth. A quick fix and then it is back to work. The retirement age was raised for civil servants, and that directive seems to affect ferries too.

Of course KFS insists that its fleet is insured, but it never bothers telling us the underwriter of its vessels, which the world’s premier marine insurer would not touch with a barge pole.

Two ferries were recently bought in from Germany to increase capacity. It makes sense that we should get ferries from Germany. I mean, who would know more about how to keep them afloat than the Germans? The old tubs cannot stand gunwale to gunwale with the new tubs on seaworthiness.

But the old ferries are still in use, bent by time, pockmarked by circumstances, and ragged and worn out. Rust tubs. Out-of-order, deregistered hunks of junk. Washed-up and uninsurable collections of pig iron. An ocean-going disaster waiting to happen.

A suspension bridge would require a phenomenal amount of above-the-sea clearance. Likoni is right next to Kilindini Harbour and large ships would pass below. A tunnel would similarly have to be deep, considering that the Kilindini creek was dredged to allow it to accommodate larger ships. The tunnel, too deep. The bridge, in the sky.

Aside from the cars with fuel on board, there are usually barrels of oil also included for the journey. It is not a stretch to say that the ferry is actually a rusty torpedo waiting for a match. There is no shortage of options for those wanting to harm Kenyans. Foreign tourists, lax security, inadequate safety measures, and a country at war; how much longer can we remain lucky? The only reason we have not suffered an attack yet is perhaps because our grenade hurlers are, thankfully, less determined than others — because an attack on the ferry would almost certainly be a one-way mission.

I would also be very interested to know how many tourists know that they are aboard an uninsured vessel. How many would like to use a vessel that has been struck off the Lloyds insurance register due to advanced age. They come to Kenya for adventure, but I doubt if this is the kind they have in mind.


Oh no, they have done it again... in London

The greed of these MPs is astounding. It is a disgrace. How dare they request a salary raise now, when everyone is doing so poorly. Their timing is particularly bad and their actions deserve to be condemned by all. We should really condemn the coalition government for the present state of affairs.

I am, of course, talking about MPs in Britain, who have seen it fit to ask for a salary increase. It seems our MPs are only following the script from the mother of all parliaments. Their timing is particularly galling. Britain’s coalition government is dedicated to cutting welfare services to the poorest in the country, and London has been undergoing consecutive cycles of low growth.

Previously, the MPs were involved in a scandal where they were caught charging the taxpayer for fake second homes, kitchens, and pornography in a sense of entitlement only witnessed in the monarchy.

Perhaps it is time our high commissioner to the Court of Saint James issued a statement expressing solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the UK, whose MPs have chosen to put their interests before the people.


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