The restless ghosts of Mtongwe
Early on the
morning of April 27, 1994, 400 people boarded a ferry that was to carry them from
Mtongwe in Likoni on the south coast, to the Mombasa mainland.
Mv Mtongwe was
designed to carry a maximum of 300 people, but it had often crossed the Mtongwe
channel safely with many more on board. The vessel was crammed tight with people,
each eager to get to the other side as soon as possible to get to work, to school,
Coxwain Mwinyi Ramadhan
Mwakinyezi steered the ferry towards the mainland. But barely 40 metres from the
Mtongwe shoreline, tragedy struck, and the ferry capsized.
Of those on board,
270 people died in the Mtongwe ferry disaster. One of these was Isaac Ringoma
"This day will forever
remain in my mind as it robbed me of an important person in my life," says Nyange's
widow, Gidnorah Mrunde Nyange.
Nine years after she
lost her husband, who was 40, in the Kenya's worst maritime disaster, Mrunde is
still waiting for the government to compensate her for his death.
But she is just one
of the 280 relatives of those who died when the overloaded mv Mtongwe
ferry capsized on April 27, 1994, killing 270 people awaiting compensation from
Life has not been easy
for Mrunde, a Mombasa municipal council empoyee, since Nyange's demise. "When
he died, I became the sole breadwinner," she says.
Still, she has not
It is taking too long
to get the compensation. But I have not despaired and I am optimistic that something
good happen in the future, says the mother of three.
Claimants had been
hoping that the compensation would be between Sh1 million and Sh2 million, but
this appears highly unlikely, since the government is unwilling to pay anything
within this range, even after five years of intense negotiations.
It is high time the
government brought this issue of compensation to an end. We cannot wait indefinitely,
complains Mwinyihaji Kastomo, 60, who lost his son, Said Marembera.
Some of the relatives
have despaired, while others have rejected anything less than Sh1 million.
Any offer less than
Sh1 million will not be acceptable to us. When making the payments, the government
should consider the period we have waited, argued Sammy Wameo Ombeja, 26. He lost
his mother, who was a casual worker in Shimanzi.
The relatives have
a suit pending in the High Court. They want the Kenya Ports Authority and the
Kenya Ferry Services (KFS) to pay them more than Sh300 million as compensation.
Following the tragedy,
then president Daniel arap Moi appointed a commission of inquiry to investigate
the accident. After listening to testimony for several months, the commission,
chaired by now suspended High Court judge Mr Justice Mbogholi Msagha, presented
a report that did not apportion blame for the accident. This prompted the bereaved
families to file suit in court in November 1994.
But their legal path
has not been smooth. Their initial attempt to have the Kenya Ports Authority enjoined
in the suit was resisted by the parastatal's lawyers, and it was not until March
28, 1996, that Justice Philip Waki ruled that KPA, which then had a role in the
management of the ill-fated ferry, be enjoined in the suit.
After this development,
KPA and KFS were quick to accept liability. In August last year, an agreement
was reached on liability for the accident: the deceased were 30 per cent liable
as they boarded the vessel knowing that it was overloaded, while KPA and KFS accepted
70 per cent liability.
Lawyer Sammy Anyanzwa
says it has been difficult to convince KPA and KFS to accept a proposal that each
family be paid between Sh197,120 and Sh263,590.
There have been discussions
on the amount to be paid out but the government seems reluctant to accept the
offer, Anyanzwa says.
A lower figure has
been proposed, based on the argument that many of the victims were casual labourers
with unknown incomes. But KPA and KFS have refused it, arguing that it is still
"Though the accident
was regrettable, it was an eye opener for KFS. Since the tragedy, service has
become very safety conscious," says John Ria, its public relations and marketing
were introduced in January, 1995, to ensure passenger safety.
Counting and controlling
devices were installed to restrict the number of passengers boarding the ferries.
At Mtongwe, the KFS
has fitted turnstiles and hand-held counters, while at Likoni it has installed
passenger paddocks, which allow in only the licensed number of peoples. These
are further boosted by private guards, National Youth Service personnel and police
officers to ensure that loading procedures are adhered to. Strict segregation
of vehicles and passengers is also enforced.
Safety measures have
been heightened as passengers' safety is a priority to KFS, Ria says.
As a further precaution,
each vessel now has safety and life saving gadgets, including rafts, life buoys
and fire fighting equipment. KFS has also put in place a safety policy that is
audited routinely to ensure that the security standards in the vessels are maintained.
In addition, it has a disaster management team that meets regularly to assess
safety procedures and guidelines that have been established for all the vessels
that ply the Likoni channel.
The KFS-operated vessels
that currently ply the Mtongwe channel are mv Nyayo, mv Kilindini, mv
Harambee, mv Pwani and mv Mvita. They are registered with Lloyd's and
are inspected regularly to ensure that they are sea-worthy.
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