Saturday night’s boat accident on Lake Victoria comes a year after a government report detailed the dangers of travelling on Uganda’s waters.
A transport sector review report for 2016/17 shows that Uganda’s water transport sector is messy, mainly governed by archaic laws and that officials lack transport to do inspections.
Most of the boats, the report says, that transport between six to eight million people annually are informal, mainly modeled by local fishermen and can hardly meet safety standards.
“Overall navigation on Ugandan water bodies remains risky,” says the government report signed by Minister of Works and Transport Monica Azuba Ntege. “This is largely because over 90% of the vessels are of traditional build and our water bodies lack hydrographical and bathymetrical charts, except those that were conducted on Lake Victoria charted in 1901.”
“The charts on Lake Victoria are too old to be relied on for safe navigation especially around populated islands.”
The report also found that in the year under review, the ministry could only inspect 78 of the 100 known formal vessels (ferries etc.) in the whole country. The hundreds of informal vessels built by local fishermen were never inspected.
The report by the ministry of Works and Transport perhaps gives an insightful glimpse into why disasters like the one on Saturday, which killed at 32 people, were a bubble waiting to explode. It shows that in the year under review, they didn’t have any projects for the water transport division.
“The main activities were to review and harmonize maritime legislation, prepare a maritime transport policy, create a maritime administration (regulatory body) and accede to key IMO (International Maritime Organization) conventions to be able to regulate and manage water transport.”
The report says that apart from the wagon ferries operated by RVR, and ferries operated by UNRA and Kalangala infrastructure Services (KIS) vessels, the other formal services are, the MV Kalangala, which plies between Nakiwogo near Entebbe and Lutoboka in the Ssese Islands, Lake Bisina Ferry operated by the Government of Uganda, and the Uganda Wildlife Authority vessels on Lake Kyoga, Lake Albert & the River Nile.
The report decries the need to “regulate and manage the water transport subsector effectively and efficiently through review of the marine laws and regulations, acceding to IMO conventions, setting up a regulatory body to integrate the maritime affairs and maritime training for sustainable development and utilization of the navigable water bodies.”
The Works ministry says there is no regulatory institution set up to efficiently and safely regulate the subsector for water transport. Also, that there is a lack of an elaborate Maritime Transport Policy to supplement the National Transport Policy.
Old and fragmented laws and regulations is a big problem, the ministry says. The report says the ministry lacks search and rescue (SAR) facilities hampering rescue services on water bodies
The country also has no boat building standards and trained personnel to handle the operations of vessels on water transport