10 May 2005

Uganda: Sunken Ship Had No Radar, Insurance

Kampala — The government will set up a commission of inquiry into the Sunday sinking of MV Kabalega amid reports that the ship was not insured.

Insurance for Uganda's three ships on Lake Victoria expired last December and was not renewed according to Mr Paul Etiang, the chairman of board of governors of Uganda Railways Corporation (URC), which operates the fleet.

Etiang was yesterday addressing the press at Port Bell Pier near Kampala.

He was flanked by Transport and Communications Minister, Mr John Nasasira, who said the government would not allow any vessels back on the waters without insurance.

Nasasira said a commission of inquiry into the accident will be instituted next week.

"We have to get to the bottom of this," he said.

HIGH RISK: Nasasira (R) and Paul Etiang on the MV Kaawa yesterday (Photo by Joseph Kiggundu).

He said he had directed the URC to liase with her counterparts in Kenya and Tanzania to ensure that the flow of goods on L. Victoria is not interrupted.

MV Kabalega sank at about 3:30 a.m. on Sunday morning after colliding with another Ugandan ship, the MV Kaawa, approximately 90 kilometres from Port Bell on Lake Victoria.

All 25 crew were rescued and returned to Port Bell by another Ugandan ship, the MV Pamba.

Meanwhile, the two captains on board the ill-fated vessels blame their second-in-commands who were in charge of the ship at the time of the collision.

Captain Albert Ochaya and Captain Gerald Katumwa of MV Kaawa and MV Kabalega respectively say uncoordinated communication between the steering crew of the ships at the time of overtaking caused the collision.

"All was going on well, until the Kaawa altered course towards the Kabalega at the very last moment, hence the collision," Captain Katumwa said.

But Nasasira said it was pointless to speculate or apportion blame.

"The likelihood is that MV Kaawa hit MV Kabalega but this will be established through investigations," Nasasira said.

He blamed the delay in reporting the accident on poor communication.

"There was a problem with the radio communication and neither Port Bell nor Mwanza could read. But Kisumu managed to pick," he said.

Although the vessels collided at 3,30 a.m. on Sunday morning, it was not until after five hours that the mainland Port Bell was informed.

Sources at Port Bell pier said that at the time of the accident, the communication control room was unmanned.

URC employees, who preferred anonymity, said there was no mechanism to monitor ships on the waters.

MV Kaawa is docked at Port Bell awaiting repair.

MV Pamba, which was docked at Port Bell yesterday, is the only vehicle that is operationally fit to ply the waters of L. Victoria under the Ugandan flag but without insurance.

The URC Managing Director, Daudi Murungi, refused to reveal the cost of insurance for each vessel.

URC says MV Kaawa will be repaired in about 20 days at the Port Bell pier 'wet' dock because the dry-dock is occupied by a new cargo ship under construction named MV Kalangala.

The cost of repairs has not been established and URC is yet to contract a firm to assess the extent of the damage. In a statement to the press, Nasasira said divers from Kenya Ports Authority had been dispatched to assess and advise on the damage on the Kabalega.

Alpha Logistics, a company from Tanzania, has offered to survey the possibility of recovery at $7,000.

"Basing on the findings on the extent of the damage and the possibility of recovery a decision on whether the vessel can be retrieved or not will be made," Nasasira said.

Mr Etiang said a new vessel costs about $8 million.

Details indicate that there were 21 wagons on the Kabalega when it sank.

They carried wheat belonging to M/S Bakhresa.

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