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Shakue Kahale: I watched as my wife and children drowned one by one

Rescuers search for survivors in the Indian Ocean waters following the Sunday boat accident. Only Shakue Mwanati survived the tragedy which claimed the lives of his wife and children. [File, Standard]

The sole survivor of the Lamu boat tragedy has for the first time narrated his heart-rending experience as he watched his entire family drown in the Indian Ocean.

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Shakue Kahale Mwanati, his wife, four children, his sister and her three children, a friend’s child and his aunt, Timma Mwenye Ali, were travelling from Kizingitini to Lamu Island when their boat, MV Samaki, capsized on Sunday morning.

Apart from Mr Mwanati, all the other 11 passengers on the boat plus the captain, Mr Mohamed Shamti, died in the accident.

Thursday, Mwanati recounted his five-hour ordeal and struggle to save his family after the vessel was toppled by strong waves at Manda Bruno, off the Lamu mainland.

He said as the vessel capsized, at about 10am, everyone panicked including the captain “who was a very good swimmer but drowned perhaps because he could not muster strength to swim out of fear.

Mwanati, the only person who was wearing a life jacket, held on to six children but they all later drowned one by one in the most painful manner as he watched helplessly.

“I tried to grab my wife and the children but I could not help her. I was however able to get hold of the children and I gave them a rope which I tied around my body,” he told villagers who visited him at Kizingiti Health Centre where he is still receiving treatment.

Mwanati said he acted as an anchor buoy while the children held the rope tightly despite the strong waves that were pushing them away into the deep sea.

After about one hour, Mwanati said he saw two Tanga bound boats and tried to raise his hands while screaming for help, but the sailors neither saw them nor heard his cries.

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Strong currents

“So I continued to encourage the children that a boat will pass by and rescue us and we go home,” he said.

He also continued to monitor the sun to estimate the time even as the strong currents drifted them from one direction to the other. All this time, the children were screaming from fright.

“I was still with the children even as the strong currents pushed us further East to Asia. At one time the currents turned and started to push us towards the shores but they were not strong enough,” he said, fighting back tears.

It is after four-and-a-half hours, at about 4.30pm, that Mwanati said he started to lead the children in prayers and reciting Quran verses.

“At about 6pm after floating with the children for close to six hours the children got tired and one of the children veered off after he lost grip of the rope. I struggled with the others and brought him back,” narrated Mwanati, who vied for the Lamu East parliamentary seat in the August 8 elections and lost.

But the strong currents continued to sap their energy and at about 6pm the first child let go of the rope and drowned. The second one also drowned after about six minutes later.

“The six children were unable to continue holding and they started to drown one by one as I watched helplessly,” he said.

After the children had drowned, Mwanati started to swim to the shore where he was found exhausted and dejected at Faza Island.

Faza is part of the larger Pate Island but when the tide is high it is cut off and becomes an island itself.

It takes 12 hours for someone travelling on an ordinary engine dhow to Faza Island and two hours for one using a supersonic speedboat.

“I still remember the words my children kept on asking ‘baba hakuna boat inaeza tuokoa?’ (father is there no boat that can rescue us?).”

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