August 12, 2020

The restless ghost of Mtongwe ferry tragedy: refuse to die

A truck causes a mishap at the Likoni crossing channel. Such incidents are frequent at the mainland ramp


Today marks the 25th Anniversary of the sinking of the MTONGWE FERRY.  On this day in 1994, 272 men perished along the Kilindini Channel.

That day was April 29, 1994 when MV Mtongwe bound for the Mombasa Island capsized just 40 meters from the mainland pontoon, killing 272 of the 400 people on board. Following the disaster, it was reported that the capacity for the ferry boat was 300.

Today, we honor the dead, and remember their families, friends and the communities that they came from, who 25 years later, still know nothing but pain of loss.

Kenya Ferry Service Limited (KFS) on the other hand is still quiet on the issue of compensation indicating the need to have technological experts with sea time experience to run it instead of political appointees.

For cleaner seas and safer ferries, it is time the company’s staff from top to bottom is overhauled and a domestic ship safety code established in the country.

The domestic ship safety code can be designed in-house before it is approved by the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA).

At the height of Mtongwe ferry disaster that left Kenya in a state of shock and disbelief in the early morning of April 29, 1994

If KFS is run by sea time experienced operators, this will overcome the midstream stalling of its ferry fleet because it will be handled by hands of efficient and experienced maritime maintenance experts.

Apart from that, there is need to review the structure and operations of company with a view of ensuring that it has the capacity to enforce the necessary safety standards set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).


Proper regulation of the ferry services, maintenance and supervision would probably have spared Kenya the ferry tragedy of April 1994 when MV Mtongwe 1 capsized drowning commuters on their way to work.

KFS, as it is constituted today, cannot adequately fulfill its public mandate and there is need to establish a Kenya Ferries Corporation (KFC) to oversee the management, operation and maintenance of ferries in the most efficient way in all waters of Kenya.

This is the concave bottom boat similar to that of the mv Mtongwe 1 that listed before drowning about 272 commuters heading to the Mombasa island jetty across Kilindini channel in 1994

By doing so the KFC will relieve the country of many problems currently experienced in the maritime transport sector.

Again, insurance of ferries is indeed another crucial aspect and there is an urgent need to have a compulsory insurance of both ferries and passengers. This way in case of accidents, the company can be in a position to compensate its human cargo.

Almost the entire fleet of ferries at KFS’ Likoni mainland jetty should be taken for dry-docking on regular basis at the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) yard for maintenance.

The fully equipped Dock Yard is the only place in East Africa region where you can find first class marine engineers with sea time experience.

A multitude of curious onlookers who thronged the Mtongwe beach front to witness the rescue operations immediately word spread of the tragedy

With the frequent breakdown of ferries at the Likoni channel raising fears of a major disaster in the making, time has come for the company to use the KPA yard to save the anguish of hundreds of thousands of people risking lives crossing there.

In the past six years, the fleet of dilapidated ferries that link Mombasa Island to the southern mainland of Likoni has been breaking down at an alarming frequency that requires urgent attention.


Currently, the safety and security at the busy crossing channel leaves a lot to be desired because there is no proper movement control measure, vehicles and passengers all disembark and load at the same time.

The electronic barriers/counters recently installed are malfunctioning leaving physical frisks by guard force at their pleasure with the majority of crew members lacking sea time experience or undergone training on maritime safety and security.

Artist’s impression of a bridge across the Likoni 500 metres crossing stretch as one of the projects suggested to resolve the ferry services at the channel

As it is, we are waiting for a maritime disaster to happen and without pre-empting this, there is urgent need to take stringent measures to ensure vehicular and human cargo is thoroughly screened before boarding the ferries.

For instance, in October 2012 a heavy truck loaded with oil products crashed into the ocean while in February 2013 eleven people died and several others seriously injured after a lorry lost control and rammed into passengers boarding a ferry at the Likoni mainland crossing channel.


With Likoni being the only link between Mombasa Airport and the tourist hotels of Tiwi and Diani, hoteliers say that they are incurring heavy losses as visitors opt for more accessible locations such as the North coast due to the ferry delays.

In January 2009 a tourist hotel at Tiwi in the South Coast was burnt to ashes because firefighting engines were delayed at the ferry crossing while regional traffic has been adversely affected although the Likoni route is a major Cairo link to Cape Town in South Africa through Tanzania.

Final, the national government should relinquish the management of ferry services to the county government as rightfully enshrined in the constitution of Kenya.

Part 2, Paragraph 5 of the Fourth Schedule of the constitution includes Ferries and Harbors’ as a county function (excluding the regulation of shipping).

County governments in the coastal and the great lakes region should take over the management of ferry services, ports and harbors, but this has to be done in stages until the whole responsibility is passed over to them.

It should be done transitionally…not trying to show muscles the way it is being done. Whoever will be entrusted to run our ports and harbors shall be doing so for the good of this nation.

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