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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Marking mv Bukoba sinking with unlearnt lessons

20th May 2012

Tomorrow, the 21st of May Tanzanians will be commemorating 16 years since the sinking of mv Bukoba in 1996 in Lake Victoria, causing the deaths of nearly 800 people, arguably one of the worst marine accidents in East Africa, before the mv Spice Islander sank off the port of Zanzibar late last year.

The event should be commemorated and taken as a lesson on maintenance and use of marine vessels so as to stem avoidable accidents while out at sea or in lakes.

David Mziray, public affairs manager for the Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority (SUMATRA) said in an interview that, in order to strengthen and sustain safety of marine vessels and to avoid accidents like MV Bukoba from happening again, SUMATRA was strengthening security presence in every port as well as checking overloading of marine vessels.

SUMATRA is also engaged in raising awareness and education on travelers and cargo transporters on marine vessels through public meetings, radio programmes and television, advertisements and brochures.

Another aspect of current efforts is to update ship captains on weather conditions, with discussions continuing between SUMATRA and the Tanzania Meteorological Agency to set up a system of continual updating of weather conditions on the routes that the ships ply.

Although the transportation authority has strongly sought to provide education on how to avoid accidents there isn’t much response in implementing what is being imparted to stakeholders, he said.

Overloading was still the cause of accidents of marine vessels, where one method of checking this trend is to ensure that Public Affairs Manager, marine vessels start their journey from the official port where security is well organized, he stated. Most overloaded marine vessels start their journeys from haphazard docking points without routine or adequate inspection.

Inspected vehicles are also insured and need to be furnished with rescue equipment like life jackets, life boats, with such equipment placed according to the number of passengers, plus extra provisions in case of error, where ten percent more of equipment in relation to passengers is supplied.

The SUMATRA official told The Guardian on Sunday that demonstration exercises to passengers before starting the journey is a challenge to the sector, he stated, advising marine workers to start placing such equipment and conduct demonstrations for security purposes.

Marine accidents occur often due to carelessness of the captain or port failure to perform its responsibilities like checking the vehicles before commencing a journey.

Marine vessels require detailed inspection once per year, but surprise inspections can be conducted to maker sure the vehicle is safe all the time, he said, noting that inspections also involve the qualifications or competence of ship captains and staff.

In commemorating the sinking of mv Bukoba, SUMATRA requests operators of marine vessels not to carry passengers if the ship engine is below capacity for such task. They should also take account of weather information, while taking care not to travel without getting permission from port authorities, leave vessel information to the port officer, plus taking note that small seagoing vessels are not allowed to travel at night.

SUMATRA was established in 2005 as the government sought to hive off certain ministerial activities to specialized agencies with greater autonomy and more presence on the ground, despite that the mv Bukoba accident contributed to the need for such agency.

MV Bukoba was a Lake Victoria ferry that carried passengers and cargo between Bukoba and Mwanza. On 21 May 1996 the vessel sank with great loss of life, with some reports putting the number of dead as reaching 1000 passengers when the vessel sank 25 metres (14 fathoms) of water, 30 nautical miles (56 km) off Mwanza.

Possible causes were identified by Captain Joseph Muguthi, formerly a captain in the Kenya Navy, and writing in the pages of the Daily Nation as a marine navigation consultant. He labeled it an accident waiting to happen, as Lake Victoria ferries disregarded safety regulations.

Specifically this involves provision of life jackets, life rings and life boats, while there is also a lack of fire fighting equipment and lack of distress signals. “What equipment there is, is not regularly checked; the vessels are not regularly dry docked for routine maintenance and repairs are not regularly inspected, while some of marine vessels staff are not licensed to navigate

The lack of equipment and divers was partially to blame for lethargic pace of salvage operations. Rescue teams from South Africa, including Navy divers, were flown in to salvage the ship and retrieve the bodies.

Then President Benjamin Mkapa declared three days of national mourning, with criminal charges brought against nine Tanzania Railways Corporation officials, including the captain of the mv Bukoba and the manager of the corporation’s Marine Division.

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