Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New ferries arrival date shifted to next year

By MWAKERA MWAJEFA

The new ferries will not come before Christmas as Mombasa residents expected, instead, the new date being touted now is early January.

The only activity slated for December is the departure of technicians and coxswains for Germany to familiarize themselves with the operations of the new ferries. About ten employees are slated for further training in order to be ready for the new vessels.

According to the Kenya Ferry Services managing director, Mr Isaac Kamau, the arrival of two new ferries in will open up trade with Southern African and boost investors’ confidence in the South Coast, says Kenya Ferry Services managing director Isaac Kamau.

Speaking from his Likoni jetty office on Tuesday, Mr Kamau said the ferries ‘’would be ready for those planning to drive to South Africa for the World Cup bonanza’’.

“The Likoni channel is a vital link to the southern countries for Kenya, Uganda, Southern Sudan, Ethiopia and Democratic Republic of Congo,” he said adding that the ageing ferries plying there were major concern to stakeholders.

However, he expressed confidence that when the two ferries named Mv Kwale and Mv Likoni start operation they would ease the current congestion experienced at the 500 metres-long channel.

The acting MD explained a team comprising 10 employees -- electrical and mechanical technicians and coxswains -- would leave the country on December 26 for Germany for training purposes.

“They will spend about two weeks training to handle the 70-metre ferries with a capacity of 60 vehicles and 1500 people,” he said.

Immediately the ferries arrive in Mombasa, Mr Kamau added the same personnel would undergo further training on how to use the ferries at the Likoni channel as par the contract specification.

“The two ferries are slightly wider by 16 metres compared to Mv Nyayo, Kilindini and Harambee,” he said.

Asked to confirm the arrival date, Mr Kamau said he did not know exactly when but they (ferries) would be loaded for Mombasa immediately after their employees complete the training on January 8, 2010.

For commuters and motorists, Likoni channel has become a nightmare due to breakdowns of the five vessels that ply the 500-metre crossing stretch. Just yesterday (Wednesday), there was a scare when one ferry stalled midstream and the passengers had to be offloaded to another ferry.

The increased number of commuters from 150,000 to almost 200,000 and over 3,000 vehicles daily have put great pressure on the ageing ferries some of which are more than 30 years.

According to the MD the pressure at the channel has forced the management to deal with only mechanical or electrical problems causing frequent breakdowns without a chance give each ferry a ‘’thorough maintenance repairs’’.

“Any slight breakdown of any of the ferries we experience massive queues of travellers and motorists which forces us to only make minor repairs on problematic vessels,” he said.

With the arrival of the new ferries, Mr Kamau said the management would have adequate time to rehabilitate the ageing ferries to reduce their fuel bill consumption.

“These old ferries are consuming a lot of fuel to operate and this is adversely affecting our other plans to ensure efficient services at the channel,” he said.

The channel has been a concern for hoteliers and tourism establishments in the South Coast which have lost business because of frequent delays at Likoni crossing point that has seen tourists miss their scheduled flights.

A south coast businessman David Ndirangu complained the delays at the channel was affecting the flow of business especially tourists who were forced to leave their hotels early to catch up their flights.

Hoteliers expressed fears that Kenya might lose business to neighbouring countries such as Zanizibar and Syechelles due to poor infrastructure that was worsen by the ferry mishaps at Likoni.