The Likoni channel connects Mombasa Island to the Southern Mainland and is serviced by 5 ferries; MV Mvita, MV Kilindini, MV Nyayo, MV Harambee and MV Kwale. This channel is at the center of not just differences in turf pitting the national government and county government, but also recurrent breakdowns which anger locals, delaying movements of goods and people. In 2012, Two ferries at Mtongwe were decommissioned due to decrepit ramps and landings, forcing Mtongwe residents to use the Likoni Ferries. This has immensely contributed to the congestion at the Likoni Channel crossing.
The channel handles approximately 6,000 vehicles and 200,000 commuters daily, and the numbers are expected to rise to about 500,000 in the next few years. Most commuters are however frustrated with the frequent breakdowns of the ferries.
Earlier this month, three ferries developed mechanical hitches and only MV Kilindini ferried commuters across the channel. This resulted in a massive traffic jam in the Central Business District (CBD) as vehicles queued to cross the channel. MVs Harambee and Kwale resumed operations late March, to the relief of many.
As if the frequent hitches are not enough, there have been constant squabbles between the national and county governments on who should run the ferry. When Tawfiq Balala was nominated as the new Mombasa County executive for Transport, his first sentiments during a press conference were that the national government should cede control of the ferries to the county government.
He said the county had its hands tied in matters pertaining to the outstanding issues that bedevil the ferry services, but would easily solve them within a month if it were granted management.
He was echoing sentiments expressed on several earlier occasions by both the county’s governor and senator. Mr. Hassan Omar has been on the forefront rooting for the transfer of the functions since, he says, they are considered by the senate as being under the Fourth Schedule section (ii) which details the various functions of county governments.
“It is simply a matter of following provisions of the law”, Hassan added.
Kenya Ferry Services Managing Director, Hassan Musa, announced that two new ferries would be acquired to help mitigate the conundrum. Turkish shipping yard company Ozata Tersanececik Limited has been tasked with delivering the new ferries by mid 2016. Whether that will happen remains to be seen.
“We have had the same problems with the ferry for very many years,” complains Mr. Jeremy Mwang’ombe, a Likoni resident, ” why can’t the government simply construct a bridge there?”
His sentiments are shared by many others, and there are indeed rumors of plans to construct a bridge to replace the ferry one day.
Should that happen, it will be the ultimate solution to the conundrum at the ferry.