Missing Fishermen reunite with families after 17 days ordeal

Counties Mombasa

Mzee Anthony Kitsutsu has organised a goat-eating party for his two sons on January 3, 2020 at his Garite home in Magarini Sub County to celebrate their ‘re-birth.’


Although fishermen Juma Samuel Nzai and Baraka Kahindi are grown-up adults with wives and children, their father views them as infants barely a week old. Juma has two children from one wife while Baraka has six children from two wives.


“My sons were dead but now they are alive. I must hold a party for them, because it is like my wife has given birth to them afresh,” he told journalists at Ngomeni Beach, about 27 kilometers from Malindi Town, on Saturday.


30-year old Baraka and his 28-year brother Juma were among four fishermen who went missing in the Indian Ocean on December 9, 2019 and resurfaced on Christmas Day after surviving 17 days and night of a harrowing experience of eating dried fish and drinking sea water.


It rained and shined on them and they had to bear the harsh elements in the open sea, with the fear that the boat could capsize and end their lives. They say only a miracle saved them as it is not normal for human beings to survive on the highly saline sea water.


Juma and his younger sibling, whose occupation is fishing, together with boat captain Malik Mbwana and Edward Munga, set off aboard a motor boat from a fish landing site in Kipini, Tana River County, to check on their lobster traps in the deep sea on December 9, 2019.


They never returned as expected. They did not come back the following day. Not even the following week.


“We went into the sea to check our lobster traps, but as we were returning, heavy rains accompanied by strong winds started troubling our engine boat. It was about 1.00 pm but the unexpected weather prevented us from moving further.


“Our captain switched the boat off and we tried to drop the anchor, but it did not reach the sea bed. Soon it was night. We slept to wait for day break, but the strong winds drifted the boat deeper into the open sea,” Juma told reporters at the Ngomeni beach on Saturday.


Juma, who was the assistant captain of the small engine boat, said at dawn the following day, Mbwana switched the engine on and started sailing, but they were not sure where they were going, since they could not see the sea shores.


“When we woke up in the morning, we did not know where we were. We switched the engine on again and started racing, but it is like we were going further from the shore. Then suddenly,  the engine ran out of fuel,” he said.


They did not have any food or water with them. Luckily, they had carried some dried fish, and that is what they used for food and drunk the highly saline sea water to survive. When it rained on the seventh day, they tapped some water with containers they had carried with them, which they used.


“On the ninth day at sea, we spotted what looked like a Kenya Navy ship from afar and attempted to ask for help by waving our clothes since we could not ride the boat towards the vessel for lack of fuel,” he said.


He clarified that the four fishermen did not have any conversation with the occupants of the ship since they were far apart. They are also not sure whether the occupants of the bigger vessel were Kenya Navy officers.


It was reported in the local media Saturday that Kenya Navy officers refused to heed to the stranded fishermen’s distress calls.


When reporters reached Ngomeni beach on Saturday, Beach Management Unit Chairman Farouq Ahmed was constantly receiving calls from Kenya Navy officers from an unknown base.


One of the officers on the other end said his boss wanted to talk to the reporters on the ground, but when the supposed boss called later, he said he did not want to talk to any reporter. He just wanted to talk to Baraka. But when he was told Baraka was ready to speak to him, he said he would talk to him after the reporters leave.


This act of intimidation could have forced the fishermen to change the story their captain gave to the media in Watamu after the rescue. It could also have been a warning to the reporters to mind what they would write.


On his part, Baraka Kahindi told the reporters that it was a miracle that their boat drifted to Ras Ngomeni where they were rescued.


“It is like I was born again on Christmas Day. I thank God to be alive today. In the open sea, I prayed very hard, and when I got tired, I asked God to take my life to end the agony,” he said.


Mr. Kitsutsu, the duo’s father, said the family went through days of agony, not knowing where their kin were and whether they were alive or not.


He said he received a phone call from a village mate who told him that his sons had gone missing in Kipini and he traveled to meet their boss.


“I went to Ngomeni several times to search for my sons. I travelled to most of the beaches in Lamu, Tana River and Kilifi Counties with the hope that I would at least locate their bodies.


“One day I spent Sh800 to hire a bodaboda motorcyclist, who helped me move from one place to another on the search mission,” he said.


He consulted mediums and traditional seers who did not give any convincing solution to his predicament



“One of them told me that my sons were well, but they were inside a cave together with their boats. He did not offer any solutions,” he said.


When all hope of ever seeing his children again was gone, he decided that it was time to organise for their funeral, and thus put his three daughters-in-law, his sons’ eight children and the entire family on mourning mode.


“One day I received a call from a person in Malindi who told me that my sons had died and their bodies were at the Malindi hospital mortuary but on arrival I found none of my sons’ bodies,” he said.



He however has good words for a ‘young prophetess’ in the area, who he says gave a prophesy that came to pass.


“That girl told us that my sons would return home within three days on Sunday and true to her word, my sons were rescued on Christmas Day,” he said.


Mzee Kitsutsu said on December 25, he received a phone call that four fishermen men had been rescued at Ras Ngomeni, just a few kilometers from his Garite home. Could his sons be among them?


“I rushed to Ras Ngomeni to see the men, but since I do not know the village very well, it was not easy to locate the place the men were said to have been found,” he said.


He said that he met the Chairman of the Ngomeni Beach Management Unit (BMU), Mr. Farouq Ahmed, the Ngomeni Assistant Chief and officers from the Kenya Coast Guard (formerly Marine Police), who had also received word about the rescue of the lost fishermen.


“How relieved I was when I identified my sons! The four men looked frail and confused. We rushed them to the Malindi Sub County Hospital where they were treated and discharged the same day. What a sweet re-union on Christmas Day!” he told journalists at the Ngomeni beach.



Ngomeni village elder Omar Mohamed Mbwana said the whole village came to standstill on receiving the good news.


“What baffled us is the fact that they were rescued in Ras Ngomeni, just a few kilometers from their home after being stranded in the open sea for all those days,” he said.


Ngomeni Beach Management Unit chairman, Farouq Ahmed called on the government through the Kenya Coast Guards to come up with a hot line that will be used by security agencies and rescuers to respond to distress calls at sea.


“The BMU also needs to be equipped with modern machines and equipment that can be used to trace boats leaving their bases,” he said.



He asked the government and well-wishers to assist the affected fishermen economically for the time period they will be out of work as they contemplate on the next course of action.


By Emmanuel Masha

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