30 May 2008

Uganda: Gov't Set to Replace Sunken MV Kabalega

Kampala — The Minister of Finance, Dr Ezra Suruma is expected to announce in this year's budget speech a government allocation of Shs 14 billion for the purchase of a new ferry wagon to replace MV Kabalega which sunk on impact after colliding with MV Kaawa in Lake Victoria in May 2005.

According to a copy of the National Budget Framework Paper for the Financial Year 2008/09 obtained by Daily Monitor, the money is part of a "matter of urgency" effort to "provide resources for the development of an alternative route through the port of Dar es Salaam."

The Lake Victoria-Dar es Salaam route is Uganda's most viable alternative way to the sea after the Kampala-Mombasa route which accounts for nearly three thirds of the country export-import trade.

Development and maintenance of the southern route as the Tanzanian way is deemed supremely vital for Uganda whose landlockedness often makes it vulnerable to regional political-economic crises such as the genocidal bloodbath that consumed Kenya in January this year.

Currently, Uganda has only one ship, MV Kaawa which is inadequate to handle the amount of Cargo Uganda imports via Lake Victoria. Lack of sufficient water transport facilities compounded Uganda's fuel supply crisis during Kenya's turmoil since petroleum companies had to hire expensive Tanzanian ships to ferry the fuel from Mwanza port to Port Bell.

Because of the lack of ships on Lake Victoria, the fuel scarcities in Uganda have also grown troublingly frequent with the constant breakdown of the petroleum pipeline from Mombasa to western Kenya.

In one of Uganda's worst maritime tragedies, the Belgium-built, $8 million MV Kabalega which was carrying 800 tonnes of wheat from Mwanza port sunk on Sunday May 8, 2005 when it hit MV Kaawa which was going in the opposite direction.

The accident was caused, according initial accounts, by drunken and recklessly careless captains. But a subsequent account by a member of parliament Mr Aggrey Awori appeared to suggest some sabotage of the ship, probably after a weapons smuggling deal went catastrophically awry.

A commission of inquiry however instituted by the Transport and Works Minister, Mr John Nasasira later pointed to a possible mechanical failure resulting from years neglect. The ship did not have insurance and so the government had to bear the entire loss.

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