OVER 300 residents of Ukara and Bugorola in Ukerewe district, Mwanza region yesterday refused outright to board two government-owned ferries officially sanctioned to start offering public transport services to the two Lake Victoria islands as replacements for MV Nyerere, whose recent sinking resulted in the drowning deaths of over 200 people.
The MV Ukara and MV Sabasaba vessels were scheduled to formally begin their cross-lake trips schedule yesterday, but were rejected outright by the would-be travellers as soon as they set eyes on them.
Early reports said officers from the Nansio police station were even prompted to use teargas to disperse the loudly protesting would-be travellers in extraordinarily rowdy scenes in the vicinity of the ferry boarding area.
The almost unanimous concern appeared to be that MV Sabasaba, which previously plied the route between Kigongo and Busisi islands in the lake, moves at such a slow speed that it would take more than three hours from Ukara to Bugorola.
In the case of MV Ukara, the island residents feel it is too old to survive the strong wave currents of the lake.
There was no official word of response from relevant government authorities on the issues raised by the time we went to press last night.
Ukara island consists of eight villages with a population of just over 50,000, according to the 2012 national census. The island’s residents depend solely on ferry and canoe services for transport.
Expectant mothers and patients were seen walking the long distance from Bwisya to Katende village to access canoe transport that would enable to reach the Nansio district hospital.
According to one of the island residents, Hezrom Maugo: “We had a meeting which was endorsed by the Mwanza regional commissioner (John Mongela), where we all agreed not to use vessels that are old and can’t survive strong winds in the lake”.
Maugo said with the rainy season approaching, all the signs are that both MV Ukara and MV Sabasaba could very well break down in the water very soon and possibly with full passenger loads on board.
“It’s not even a month since we lost relatives when MV Nyerere capsized... we want the government to give us better transport now,” he demanded.
Bwisya village chairman Oru Magelo said the villagers have all agreed to boycott the two “new” ferries, and have already written to top regional authorities in demand of a “speed-ferry.”
According to Magelo, a copy of their letter has been submitted to the Tanzania Electrical Mechanical and Electronics Services Agency (TEMESA).
Mwanza regional police commander Jonathan Shana said he was aware of the villagers’ boycott actions yesterday, but denied that police used teargas to disperse the crowd since the residents had caused no harm to the vessels.
“There are no damages caused so far”, said the RPC.
More than 220 people were reported drowned after the MV Nyerere capsizing in Lake Victoria last month. The tragedy occurred just a few metres away from the shores of Ukara island, where it was getting set to land.
Witnesses said the ferry lurched over and sank when passengers rushed to one side to disembark as it approached the dock.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, President Magufuli sacked the entire board of the Surface and Maritime Transport Regulatory Authority (SUMATRA) and revoked the appointment of its chairman, John Ndunguru.
The president also dissolved the TEMESA advisory board and ordered the formation of a probe committee that will work with security organs to investigate the cause of the MV Nyerere sinking.