Likoni ferry crossing remains major headache in Covid-19 war

Monday March 30 2020
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Pedestrians walk to board a ferry at the Likoni crossing on March 28, 2020. Authorities are yet to find a solution to solve the crowding crisis at the channel as efforts are made to prevent possible Covid-19 infections. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By MOHAMED AHMED

The government seems to have resorted to guess work in its efforts to prevent the possible spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19) at the Likoni ferry crossing.

The channel has proven to be a puzzle that officials from both the national and county governments are finding difficult to unravel.

With the dusk to dawn curfew in place, the headache has seen authorities spend sleepless nights trying to ensure they put measures to properly manage the thousands of ferry users.

Despite the chaos witnessed at the Island side of the channel on Friday, no solution seems to have been reached at on how to prevent possible spread of the virus at the crossing.

PEDESTRIANS BAN

Earlier, the Ministry of Transport had wanted the crossing of pedestrians banned and public service vehicles be allowed on board the vessels to ferry the people.

But the move hit a snag and the Kenya Ferry Service (KFS) management, together with other stakeholders, opted not to implement it.

Officials who attended the meeting confided to the Nation that it was feared that chaos might erupt if the thousands of pedestrians are prevented from crossing.

Instead, President Uhuru Kenyatta later ordered that the Kenya Coast Guard Service (KCGS) and National Police Service (NPS) take over control of the channel.

CHAOS

Unknown to the government, the announcement was another recipe for chaos.

A day after their take over, police injured hundreds of citizens as they tried to control surging crowds in a bid to ensure social distancing is observed.

The police who took charge of the channel sought to ensure the 1.5 metre distance was observed amongst pedestrians while in the ferries.

But before accessing the vessels, the commuters were being forced to stand back to back, beating the intention of social distancing.

“Police are punishing my people instead of helping them. I am saddened by the queueing system. How are they maintaining the one metre social distance?” wondered Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho.

He was speaking following the chaos that was witnessed at the channel.

RESCHEDULE OPERATIONS

On Saturday, with no proper policy at hand, Mr Joho together with other county leaders and officials from the national government led by Interior Chief Administrative Secretary Hussein Dhadho and Coast Regional Commissioner John Elungata, went to the channel and announced that what they agreed on was to reschedule the ferry operations.

The only new measure Mr Joho mentioned was that vehicles would only be allowed to cross at the channel from 11am to 2pm.

This, he said, would allow the smooth ferrying of pedestrians who will cross from 5am to 6.30pm as announced by KFS.

This means that four vessels – MV Jambo, MV Kilindini, MV Kwale and MV Likoni – will ferry the thousands of people across.

SOCIAL DISTANCING

“None of the officials spoke about the social distancing measure. They will continue lining people and make many get late to work. The problem at the channel is the people not the vehicles,” said Commission for Human Rights and Justice (CHRJ) Executive Director Julius Ogogoh.

Normally, the Nation understands, one ferry can carry up to 1,500 people.

But with the social distancing now being in force, the ferries are forced to carry fewer people.

Tracking coronavirus

TWO AT A TIME

Despite the availability of ferries, only two can use the channel at a go, a situation that can still see the crowding of people who caused chaos after being held at the shores for hours.

“We may witness a repeat of what happened on Friday. We need a proper solution at the channel that will see that the people are protected from the spread of the disease without their rights being violated,” Mr Ogogoh said.

Meanwhile, Mr Elungata said if the situation worsens, they will be forced to close the Likoni channel.

He urged people to stay at home.

“That is the best way to prevent the spread of the virus amongst us,” he said.