Wednesday June 4 2014

Bring back MV Kalangala now

By Editorial

Government should quickly rescue residents of Kalangala Island and help them travel cheap and safe. But for now, the islanders’ distress calls to the government to save them from the risks of water travels on unstable vessels and paying more for the roundtrips to and from the mainland, have gone unheeded.

First was an appeal to government to return MV Kalangala, the only cheap and secure link between Entebbe and Kalangala. The marine vessel has been taken for routine servicing in Mwanza in Tanzania since January. Second, the residents say even MV Pearl, which links Kalangala to Masaka District, though affordable, has proven risky. Since it was commissioned last year, the ferry has stalled on the lake three times, sending passengers into panic at each instance.

Only two weeks ago, a stampede by more than 80 passengers aboard MV Pearl in the middle of the lake, almost ended in disaster. This is why the Kalangala Infrastructure Service (KIS) ferry managers, should take safety seriously. As Daudi Sempiira, a frequent traveller said, having nearly 100 passengers, four trucks, three mini-buses and three salon cars and other cargo marooned in the middle of an eight-kilometre stretch open water is scary. The water-locked district residents are right to be worried. Last September, MV Pearl choked in the middle of the waters for about 10 hours, forcing a boat to the rescue of passengers.

For safety reasons, KIS must address fears about the frequent breakdown of the ferry. And excuses by ferry management that the engines stalled because some fishing nets were sucked into the engines and propellers are indefensible because three of such incidences in one year point to bigger problems. It is worrisome that MV Pearl, a ferry that plies the waters from Kalangala District to Masaka District in 30 minutes, now spends more than three hours on the same route.

Recently, the ferry stopped for several hours midway en route to Masaka. Concerns by commuters that often time the captains withdraw to the cabins and surrender stewardship to apprentices to steer the ferry is equally troubling. Deplorably, the MV Kalangala backup vessels, MV Amani and MV Mukombozi, which ply the waters between the islands and Entebbe, have not helped much as the residents say they are relatively more expensive.

KIS should listen to Kalangala islanders, sort out the water transport mess and stop Bujumba County MP Fred Bada and the residents from a planned demonstration in June, if MV Kalangala is not returned. Similarly, the Ministry of Works should return MV Kalangala and save travellers from costly and unsafe transportation.