Nine people drowned while an unknown number are still missing following a boat accident in the Lamu channel on Sunday night.
A commuter passenger boat mv Safina collided with another vessel carrying nearly 50 drums of fuel, sending the passenger boat plummeting to the sea bottom with its human cargo.
According to the Kenya Red Cross, rescue workers managed to pluck some 25 passengers from the water as 23 others swam to safety ashore. Of those rescued by the teams of divers, 13 are recovering in hospital.
But the exact number of those missing remains unknown as it is not clear how many passengers were in the ill-fated boat, even though the Red Cross placed the number at 82.
The second boat was carrying fuel for the huge electricity generators in Lamu Island.
“Search and rescue operations by the Kenya Red Cross are still underway. The Lamu team has been joined by the Mombasa and Malindi branches,” a statement from the relief organisation said.
Red Cross personnel also set up an information and help desk to assist the families trace their relatives and offer counselling.
Divers from the Kenya Navy and police have also joined the search and rescue operation.
Amina Shee, a Form Three student at Alliance Girls High School who survived the tragedy together with her mother and aunt, recalled their boat crashing into another vessel which had suddenly loomed into their way in the dark waters.
“We heard the coxswain shouting to people in the other boat to keep left. But apparently, it was too late and the next thing I knew, I was in the water. I grabbed a tyre that was nearby and managed to stay afloat until I was rescued,” said the student.
Luckily for the family, her mother and aunt also survived.
She blamed the coxswain for disregarding advise from a Kenya Ports Authority officer who had warned him to drop off some passengers as the boat was overloaded.
“When the coxswain ignored his advice, the KPA man just left,” she added.
A boat operator, Mr Ali Athmani Ali, said he had dropped off his brother at Mokowe jetty in his boat and was returning to the island when he saw spotlights ahead of him.
“When I reached them, I realised an accident had happened and joined in the rescue. I took 20 people to the shore,” he told the Nation.
Coast provincial commissioner Ernest Munyi sent condolences to the bereaved families, but blamed the accident on boat operators’ failure to observe safety regulations.
“At the moment, rescuers are on the ground. The Sunday night accident is one of the worst sea accidents and we have resolved to make sure boat operators abide by all the safety regulations,” the PC told the Nation on phone.
Mr Munyi said the coxswains would be trained on safety and would be required to buy safety equipment for their boats.
He noted that the ill-fated boat did not even have a list of the passengers on board, making it difficult to work out the identity and numbers of those still missing.
Interviews revealed that the travellers, most of who had spent the New Year celebrations on Lamu Island, were heading to Mokowe jetty on the mainland where they were to board vehicles to Mombasa, Malindi and other destinations.
Mr Abdishaik Sharrif, a clerk at Tahmeed Coach Bus office in Mombasa said a large number of the victims had booked tickets to travel in a Mombasa-bound bus that was to leave Mokowe at 8.30pm on Sunday.
Reported by Galgalo Bocha, Anthony Kitimo and Bozo Jenje