By Patrick Kagenda
It is good news for holiday makers and businessmen. A Tanzanian owned passenger vessel is plying the Port Bell ” Mwanza route weekly. Uganda last had a passenger vessel to Mwanza three years ago. That is because Ugandan owned ships MV Pamba and MV Kaawa have been grounded since 2005, while MV Kabalega rots away in the lake after a 2005 accident.
The reluctance by the government to restore the two vessels has effectively killed Uganda’s southern import/export route through Mwanza and Dar es Salaam, putting more pressure on the eastern route through the congested port of Mombasa, which increases transport costs and turn-around time for Ugandans.
Currently, four vessels MV Serengeti, MV Umoja, MV Kamanga and MV Satnam are plying the Port Bell/Mwanza/Kisumu route; all of them are foreign owned. The Serengeti and Umoja are owned by Marine Services Ltd, a Tanzanian state enterprise, while Kamanga and Satnam are owned by private Tanzanian and Kenyan firms respectively.
When asked about the vessels plying the Mwanza – Port Bell route, State Minister for Transport John Byabagambi said it is true these vessels are coming to Uganda but are unscheduled. Byabagambi got to know about MV Serengeti for the first time during this interview with The Independent , upon which he called his commissioner for transport, who acknowledged receipt of an application for a license from Marine Services Ltd to operate the Port Bell – Mwanza route.
The commissioner for marine transport in the Ministry of Works and Transport, Mr Godfrey Wandera, said that because of the East African Cooperation treaty, once a vessel is licensed in one country it doesn’t need to register in another. However, Byabagambi said Tanzanian vessels are very old and dangerous because they decommission them from the Indian Ocean and commission them on inland waters.
But Marine Services Ltd general manager, Mr Mchauru, who is based in Mwanza dismissed Byabagambi’s claims, saying MV Serengeti is still sound, as it was built in 1988 and has never served on the Indian Ocean. MV Serengeti and MV Umoja, he said, are licensed by Tanzania’s Ministry of Infrastructure Development, which is a member of International Maritime Organisation.
The vessel plies the Mwanza/Port Bell route once a week. It has a passenger capacity of 593 people and 350 tons of cargo. MV Serengeti offers first class travel at Tshs 45,000 (Ushs 60,000), second class travel at Tshs 30,000 (Ushs 40,000) and economy class at Tshs 25,000 (Ushs 34,000) all payable aboard the vessel.
MV Umoja is a containerised cargo vessel, charging $800 per container for export, while imports are charged $1,114 per container. MV Serengeti cargo charge is $40 per ton for exports and $48 for imports.
Mchauru says MV Serengeti meets all the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Regulations 2005 of Tanzania. These provisions include the condition of the structure, machinery and equipment, fire safety systems and appliances, fire control plan, life-savings appliances and the survival craft and their equipment.
MV Serengeti is equipped with communications and navigational equipment that have been found to be satisfactory by the government surveyor in Tanzania. As a result of the survey the vessel was awarded a Certificate of Sea Worthiness and Certificate of Safe Manning.
The last passenger vessel to ply the Port Bell/Mwanza route was the MV Bukoba which sank near Mwanza on May 21, 1996 and more than 1,000 people aboard the overloaded vessel perished.
Since the grounding of MV Pamba and MV Kaawa, the only Ugandan vessel active on Lake Victoria is MV Kalangala that plies between Nakiwogo in Entebbe and the Ssese Islands. Another Ugandan vessel, MV Barbus, which used to move between Port Bell and Kalangala, was decommissioned several years ago.
In spite of a government promise early this year to rehabilitate its vessels within three months, to date nothing has been done.
In March this year after the Kenyan elections turmoil stopped short of grounding the Ugandan economy, Minister Byabagambi told The Independent €œMoney for renovating the vessels has been secured as a loan€¦getting the vessels running is crucial at this material time after Uganda has gone through a tough time that almost caused the economy to collapse.
The vessels’ return to the waters would open the southern route which has been closed for three years.€ But the vessels are still not operational, and Ugandans are once again grappling with needless fuel and cooking gas shortages. Yet water vessels not only minimise transport costs compared to the commonly used road transport, but are a durable investment that if not sunken, a ship can last up to 100years.