The decision to buy two new ferries to serve the Kilindini Channel is unlikely to provide a lasting solution to congestion at the Likoni crossing.
Maritime experts said only a bridge or bypass is the answer to the danger lurking at the Kilindini channel, adding, plans to build a bypass at Dongo-Kundu or a bridge across the Kilindini Channel should be fast-tracked.
Two new ferries bought in Germany for more than Sh1 billion are on their way to Mombasa, but it is emerging that the five vessels currently in use are a danger to passengers.
Three of the ferries, mv Harambee, mv Nyayo and mv Kilindini are said to have been withdrawn from the international maritime standards body, Lloyd’s Register, in 2007.
The other two, mv Pwani and mv Mvita, which are 41 and 35 years-old respectively, are also said to be unseaworthy and do not appear on any classification society’s register.
No reasons were given for the declassification of the three ferries but, maritime experts say, withdrawal from Lloyd’s Register raises questions about their safety and insurance.
According to a former Kenya Ports Authority merchant shipping superintendent, Captain John Odhach, one of the reasons is their age.
“All these ferries are more than 20 years old, which is past their economic lifespan in line with internationally recognised marine vessels standards,” he said. The mv Nyayo, mv Harambee and mv Kilindini were acquired in 1990 while the mv Pwani was bought in 1975 and mv Mvita in 1969.
Another maritime expert, who did not want to be named, said a vessel can only retain class status if five-year certificates remain valid at all times.
“The certificates, usually valid for five years, can only remain so if vessel surveys are held annually and renewal surveys carried out at the end of the five-year period,” he said.
He said the vessel must dry-dock twice in five years. Dry docking is when vessels are withdrawn for service and maintenance.
“If any of these surveys or maintenance become overdue, the class can be suspended immediately,” he said.
It is on this basis that maritime authorities are questioning why Kenya Ferry Services has continued operating vessels as old as 41 years.
Captain Odhach, a member of a maritime lobby, Shipping Practice Organisation said the withdrawal of the ferries from Lloyd’s Register means that they are uninsurable and those using them are doing so at their own risk.
However, KFS says the vessels are insured.
Said Captain Odhach: “These ferries are subjected to continuous use without planned and preventive maintenance.”
The coordinator of the Seafarer’s Assistance Programme, Mr Andrew Mwangura, asked why the Kenya Maritime Authority had not moved to avert a maritime disaster in the Kilindini channel.
“Imagine what would happen if an oil tanker laden with petroleum collides with a ferry in the channel. This would be a disaster of unimaginable magnitude,” he said.
A senior Kenya Ports Authority official, who did not want to be named as he is not authorised to comment on such matters, said that there was always the danger of a collision between ferries and ships, and that was why all ships calling at Mombasa were in constant contact with ferries to establish their location before entering the port.
“However, it is very dangerous when a ferry stalls in the channel, especially if a vessel has been cleared to enter the port,” he said.