The spate of breakdowns plaguing the ferries that ply the Likoni Channel resulted in the injuries of a number of young pupils and vehicle queues stretching over three kilometres. The breakdown of the “M.V. Nyayo,” in late October 2015 compounded an already dire situation. The resulting stampede of thousands of commuters as they tried to board the only two remaining ferries – and the resulting injuries of school-age children – highlighted again just how important it is for the Kenya Ferry Service (KFS) to procure reliable ferryboats on an immediate basis and maintain the ferries they already have.

The spate of breakdowns plaguing the ferries that ply the Likoni Channel resulted in the injuries of a number of young pupils and vehicle queues stretching over three kilometres. The breakdown of the “M.V. Nyayo,” in late October 2015 compounded an already dire situation. The resulting stampede of thousands of commuters as they tried to board the only two remaining ferries – and the resulting injuries of school-age children – highlighted again just how important it is for the Kenya Ferry Service (KFS) to procure reliable ferryboats on an immediate basis and maintain the ferries they already have. 

After this fiasco, “MV Harambee” stalled on a ramp in early November and “MV Nyayo,” which had recently been put back into service, developed another mechanical problem. One month prior, “M.V. Kilindini” was also withdrawn for maintenance.  

Repeated breakdowns and the failure of KFS to provide reliable ferry service at the Channel raises some serious questions. Why do the people of Mombasa and South Coast not have access to decent transportation options at the Likoni Channel? What, if anything, is being done to alleviate the situation at the ferry crossing? And what exactly are the details behind the reported KFS order for two new ferries from Turkey?

Allegations of Corruption and the Order for 2 Ferries

Many commuters, hoteliers, tourists and even Mombasa County Commissioner, Nelson Marwa blame KFS for ongoing delays and now, injuries. Marwa also pointedly and publicly blames Transport Principal Secretary (PS) John Musonik over ferry service inefficiencies, corruption at KFS and gross incompetence. KFS officials report directly to the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure.

The track record of KFS ferries operating on any given day is certainly lacklustre. Yet relief is reportedly on the way. KFS Managing Director, Musa Hassan reported in early 2015 that KFS had awarded a tender for two new ferries to a Turkish shipbuilding company, Ozata Tersanececik, Ltd. The tender is worth KES 1.9 billion (US$ 18.6 million) and was awarded to Ozata despite a rival bid by Kenya’s Southern Engineering Company (Seco) and Damen Shipyard of the Netherlands to build the new ferries locally, using local workers and expertise, right in Mombasa. 

According to reports, the new ferries from Turkey are expected to be delivered to Mombasa by mid-2016. The two ferries will replace “M.V. Mvita” and “M.V. Pwani,” which were decommissioned in late 2012. The decommissioning has left KFS with five vessels which include “M.V. Nyayo,” “M.V Kilindini,” “M.V. Harambee,” “M.V. Likoni” and “M.V. Kwale.” The problem is that there are rarely more than two or three operational vessels plying the channel on any given day. And the Likoni channel handles approximately 6,000 vehicles and 200,000 commuters daily. The numbers are expected to rise to about 500,000 in the next few years. Understandably, commuters, tourists and others are frustrated with KFS on account of the frequent breakdowns of the current ferries.

KFS Budget Windfalls and Woes

Despite previous complaints by KFS management to the contrary, KFS certainly should have the money needed to buy new ferries – even though they seem to have spent more than they were allocated this fiscal year. According to Kenya’s 2015/2016 budget, KFS was given a whopping KES 1.3 billion for the purchase of new ferries to service Mombasa and South Coast. Indeed, it would appear that KFS’ decision to award the tender in early 2015 to a Turkish shipyard was exactly what was needed to address ongoing problems. Yet there is the ongoing controversy of whether a Turkish company rather than a Kenyan company should build the vessels. However, the most important thing is for KFS to get two, new, reliable ferries and bring relief to the suffering people of the Coast who have to cross the Channel every day, right? 

What Turkish Shipyard? 

But here’s the rub. That Turkish company, Ozata Tersanececik, Ltd., does not exist. Regardless of the fact that every news story announcing that KFS had awarded the tender to Ozata Tersanececik, Ltd., this shipbuilding company does not exist in Turkey or elsewhere. In fact, the name is nonsensical in Turkish. But there may be an easy explanation.

I believe this can be chalked up to the fact that Turkish is a difficult language, replete with long, complicated words to an outsider. (Full disclosure: I speak Turkish). What KFS Managing Director Hassan and other media outlets in Kenya possibly meant to report was that the KFS tender had been awarded to Özata Tersanecilik, Ltd. (Tersanecilik means “shipyard” in Turkish). This is a real shipyard in Turkey that builds real ferries and is located on the Sea of Marmara, southeast of Istanbul. 

According to their website, Özata Shipyard builds fully-equipped yachts, mega yachts, passenger boats, Sar Boats for special purposes, and carbon-fibre body catamaran ferries. Furthermore, with an annual processing capacity of 20,000 tons of steel, Özata Shipyard is capable of building ships up to 30,000 deadweight tonnage (DWT). So it appears that KFS and the good people of Mombasa and South Coast will get shiny, new and reliable ferries from Turkey. Or will they? 

Status of Ferryboat Order

When I checked Özata Shipyard’s website (English and Turkish versions), I found no reference to the award by KFS of a tender reportedly worth KES 1.9 billion to build two new ferries.  This, despite the fact that Özata’s website appears well-managed and up-to-date, with articles about ships that were built and delivered, conferences, tenders, awards and the like. 

A search of the internet (English and Turkish) regarding the reported award of the KFS tender to Özata Shipyard turned up only one, extremely brief result, beyond those parroted in the Kenyan press and referencing Ozata Tersanececik rather than Özata Tersanecilik. This reference – on a Turkish-language website that covers maritime commercial news – only noted that Özata Shipyard had signed an agreement with KFS for two ferryboats capable of transporting 120 vehicles each. This reference was included in the same sentence about oil platforms in Iraq. This was in late February 2015; about the same time as the initial announcement was made by KFS Managing Director Hassan. This reportage, albeit small, offers limited confirmation that KFS indeed did award the tender to Özata Shipyard. It appears KFS actually did sign a deal with Özata Shipyard in February 2015. But after this brief news story in Turkish, there are no reports outside of Kenya about the deal. Furthermore, there is no news of progress, delivery or work on the new ferry boats. 

This is a large tender. It is worth pointing out again that KFS reportedly will pay KES 1.9 billion for two new ferries. Why is this not bigger news? In trying to find answers, my attempts to contact Özata Shipyard came to naught. So perhaps the relevant question now is not why did KFS award the tender to a Turkish company rather than Mombasa’s own Seco Shipyard, but rather, did KFS award a tender to build the Likoni ferries at all? And when will the good people who cross the Likoni Channel every day get some relief in the form of reliable ferries? These questions are only questions. They are not accusations. But these questions are relevant and useful and they should be simple to answer by responsible ministries such as KFS. 

References

Atieno, Winnie. (2015, May 4). Kenya Ferry to erect Sh4bn cableway at Likoni crossing. Business Daily. Retrieved from http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate-News/Kenya-Ferry-to-erect-Sh4bn-cableway-at-Likoni/-/539550/2705934/-/f1f6ofz/-/index.html.

Beja, Patrick. (2015, October 16). Kenya urged to build own ferries, ships. The Standard. Retrieved from http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2000179811/kenya-urged-to-build-own-ferries-ships.

Cannon, Brendon J. (2015, September/October). The Impact on the Engineering Sector of the 2015/2016 Kenya Budget. Kenya Engineer. 36, 5.

Mwahanga, Stanley. (2015, February 18).Kenya Ferry projects passenger numbers to top 180m by 2018. The Standard. Retrieved from http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/business/article/2000152048/kenya-ferry-projects-passenger-numbers-to-top-180m-by-2018.

Mwakera, Mwajefa. (2015, October 13). Ferries’ agency set to start work on Likoni cable cars. Daily Nation. Retrieved from http://www.nation.co.ke/counties/Ferries-agency-set-to-start-work-on-Likoni-cable-cars/-/1107872/2910288/-/6j2i3lz/-/index.html.

Mwakio, Philip. (2015, October 30). Mombasa County Commissioner Marwa and Transport PS in public spat over ferry saga. The Standard. Retrieved from https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/mobile/article/2000181215/mombasa-county-commissioner-marwa-and-transport-ps-in-public-spat-over-ferry-saga.

Nguru (n.d.). The Likoni Ferry Conundrum. Kenya Monitor. Retrieved from http://www.monitor.co.ke/2015/03/26/likoni-ferry-conundrum/.

Ringa, Mathias. (2015, May 31). Govt told to buy four more ferries to ease transport crisis at Likoni crossing channel. Daily Nation. Retrieved from http://www.nation.co.ke/counties/mombasa/Govt-buy-four-more-ferries-Likoni/-/1954178/2735110/-/oam6y5z/-/index.html.

Tepeba?, Cengiz. (2015, February 26). Gemi ?n?a Sanayi, 2023’e yeni yat?r?mlar ve hedeflerle demir al?yor. 7Deniz. Retrieved from http://www.7deniz.net/gemi-insa-sanayi-2023e-yeni-yatirimlar-ve-hedeflerle-demir-aliyor/.

(n.d.). Haberler. Özata. Retrieved from http://www.ozatashipyard.com/tr/haberler/.

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