On the evening of Sunday, September 29, 2019, the country received shocking news when a family car with two passengers slipped off a moving ferry and plunged into Indian Ocean at the Likoni crossing channel in Mombasa.
The victims, a 35 year-old mother Mariam Kigenda and her four-year-old daughter Amanda Mutheu were on board MV Harambee, one of the fleet of ferries operating at the busy Likoni channel.
Mariam and Amanda were traveling to Mombasa Island from their farm in Msambweni, Kwale County in a Toyota Isis Registration number KCB 289C.
According to CCTV camera at the ferry, the ill-fated vehicle stayed afloat for only one minute and seventeen seconds before it drowned into the deep sea.
Immediately after the incident, the government mounted a major operation through a multi-agency rescue team under the stewardship of Kenya Navy to search and recover the two bodies.
Other members of the team came from the State Department of Transport, Kenya Ferry Services, Kenya Police, Kenya Ports Authority, KEMRI and other private divers.
A team of four South African divers hired by the family also joined the multi-agency search and recovery mission under the command of Colonel Lawrence Gituma of Kenya Navy.
The daunting task of recovering the vehicle and the trapped bodies from the deep sea of over 60m was faced with numerous challenges including huge traffic of ferry passengers and cargo ships, muddy water and strong currents.
“Retrieval of a vehicle or heavy objects from a deep sea is a daunting task due to the depth of the ocean and other several factors,” said a Mombasa based Marine Eng. Titus Kilonzi.
Kilonzi noted that the rescue team had to contend with dangerous strong currents and cold, murky water and deep sea of about 60 meters below.
He said, “reaching the seabed of this long is not only exhausting but equally dangerous for divers. The normal length the diver can comfortably maneuver is 30m.”
Kilonzi noted that besides the unfavorable ocean conditions, heavy traffic of passengers and cargo ship also contributes to difficulties of the recovery operation.
It is estimated that over 400,000 passengers and 6,000 vehicles use ferry services on a daily basis.
Transport Cabinet Minister James Macharia assured Kenyans when he visited the scene of the accident that the search and retrieval efforts by the multi-agency rescue team will go on unabated until the bodies of Mariam and her daughter Amanda would be recovered.
Similar assurance was made by African Union (AU) High Representative for Infrastructure Development Raila Odinga when he made a visit to the Likoni crossing channel to assess recovery efforts and condole with the affected family.
After 13 days of unrelenting and risky operation, the family and Kenyans were in joy when the sunken vehicle and the trapped two bodies was finally retrieved.
The bodies of Mariam and Amanda were brought to surface on Friday at 4.10pm, bringing to an end the multi-agency search and recovery mission.
Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho commended the multi-agency team for the delicate recovery efforts under extremely difficult circumstances.
Joho castigated those who accused Kenya Navy of laxity saying retrieving bodies from deep sea was not an easy task.” I must commend our Navy for a job well done,” said the governor immediately after the retrieval of the two bodies.
Navy Commander Maj-Gen Levy Mghalu said state agencies should learn from such disasters and improve on safety and security measures in the maritime industry.
Government Spokesman Col (Rtd) Cyrus Oguna attributed the success of the recovery mission to diligence and professionalism exhibited by the Navy throughout the mission.
“The rescue team has had to contend with various challenges in their efforts to recover Mariam and her daughter Amanda,” said Oguna.
He said Kenyans must learn to have trust in their own institutions and offer their support in such difficult operations.
A day after the retrieval of the two bodies, the Managing Director of Kenya Ferry Services (KFS) Bakari Gowa thanked the rescue team and all those who played a role in the recovery exercise.
Gowa who was addressing the media pledged that KFS will enhance security and enforce ferry regulations to avoid similar accidents in future.
By Mohamed Hassan