The Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority (Sumatra) is a multi-sector agency established in 2001 by an Act of Parliament to regulate road, railway and marine transport.
Over the period that Sumatra has been overseeing transportation in these areas, some of the major challenges have remained for failure to address them adequately.
For example, while road transportation has developed with the construction of many roads, and travelling made easier even in some of the country’s rural areas, adherence to road safety rules remains poor.
It is acknowledged that passenger transport within the country has progressed over the past 20 years tremendously reducing travel time.
On a wider scope, transport in the Eastern African region, has picked up momentum linking countries such as Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Stakeholders deserve kudos for the progress made, save for a few remaining patches which are being addressed.
But while the road infrastructure has improved, supervision of the laws to ensure that standards are observed so as to avoid accidents leaves a lot to be desired.
Preventable accidents continue to claim human lives. It is not so much the accidents that cause the heavy loss of human life, but rather the lack of skills and means to save lives.
It is startling to learn that not much has been done to create safeguards in the areas of railways and marine transport.
It is well understood that Tanzania is endowed with large and massive water bodies, ranging from fresh river water to oceans.
Over the period, again, transport in this terrain, has grown, if not necessarily improved, with increase in the number of marine vessels.
It is quite clear, however, that the rise in the number of vessels is not supported with the equivalent number of safety equipment, units, staffing and necessary skills to address issues pertaining to possible marine disasters.
Opening a workshop on the 2010 Manila Amendment to the International Convention on the (STCW) for Seafarers 1978, in Dar es Salaam on Monday, Sumatra acting Director General Ahmad Kilima said marine accidents can be reduced substantially if skills are imparted and safety tools availed to seafarers.
He acknowledged that the human factor was critical in enhancement of maritime safety, pointing out that more than 80 per cent of such accidents are attributable to human error. Yet during all this period, as a country we have not done enough to address marine safety problems.
Since the MV Bukoba marine tragedy in 1996, Tanzania has subsequently witnessed a number of marine accidents — the Mv Spice Islander in Zanzibar being the most recent of them. What is more poor human judgement was a major cause of the accident, as shown by the special presidential report.
A more intensive skills training, coupled with provision of means to deal with emergencies is sorely needed.
As marine transport develops and becomes more popular, there is a need to ensure that Sumatra develops more viable mechanisms and equipment to effectively deal with marine disasters.
Short of this we are likely to turn the country’s rivers, lakes and oceans into marine passenger graveyards.