While crossing the Likoni ferry, one would not put so much thought to it and how it came about since it doesn’t matter really, or does it? Well, history has always mattered and it does help us in knowing how far we have come and where we are at as far as the only link to Mombasa and South Coast is concerned. Let’s get right into it, shall we?
The waters at Likoni go as deep as 60 metres and as such, there has to be a vessel(s) to move people to either side. The Ferry services started in 1937 where pontoons driven by motor boats were used until 20 years later, the era of modern ferries surfaced to replace the pontoons. The ferries at Likoni were run by Kenya Bus Services (KBS) on a franchise agreement with the Municipal Council of Mombasa. This is the same company that operates a network of buses in Nairobi and also ran the buses in Mombasa at that time.32 years later, in 1989, the company pulled out and handed over the operations to the government of Kenya. The government therefore had to buy the 5 operating ferries- Pwani, Mvita, St. Michael, Pombo and Mtongwe 1 at a price of kshs. 10.5 million. The government then asked Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) to run the services on its behalf and that is when one of KPA’s subsidiary company- Bunty Estates Ltd was changed to Kenya Ferry Services Ltd (KFS) and commenced operations on 1st Nov. 1989.Come 1990, the government buys 4 new ferries which were second hand at a cost of kshs. 376 million to supplement the existing fleet.
On the morning of 29th April 1994, MV Mtongwe which was bound for the Mombasa Island capsized just 40 metres from the mainland killing 272 of the 400 people on board whereas the capacity for the ferry was 300.
While the MV Mtongwe was the worst sea accident in Kenya, we have nonetheless experienced other accidents such as the one involving the MV Harambee faulty ramp back on 29th September, 2019. Mariam Kighenda and her daughter Amanda Wambua were crossing the ferry and were in their car when it suddenly started reversing and in a bid to control it, their car unfortunately went right past the ramp and plunged into the water. There was no emergency rescue team on standby and just the thought of them trying to signal for help and no help came by is heartbreaking to say the least. The MV Harambee was grounded and no longer operates at the Likoni waters.The Kenya Ferry Services withdrew from the Lloyd’s Register which is an international maritime classification society and is now under the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA). The KFS withdrew because they felt the laws and standards were stringent and thus applied for friendlier local standards.We currently have 5 ferries operating both the Likoni Channel and the Mtongwe Channel. The Mtongwe channel operates from Monday to Saturday at peak hours. The operating ferries are MV Safari (obtained in 2020), MV Likoni (2010), MV Jambo (2017), MV Kilindini (1990) and MV Kwale (2010). It is surprising that MV Kilindini is still in operation since it is 30 years old, more than 10 years past its “use-by” period of safe operation as spelt out in Kenya’s maritime policy.
This might not be a tourist attraction for sure but it is one of those activities that one ought to do when in Mombasa and it is absolutely free for passengers while vehicles, tuktuks, motorcycles and trucks have to pay a ferry toll. Therefore, with all that you have read here, I hope each time you board the Ferry, you will have a new understanding of the journey that it has been on.
*Get a video of the same by clicking “here”
*I have so many online