I noticed the boat was running on emergency engines from the beginning

Sunday December 15 2019

Above. Marine police search for bodies  from

Above. Marine police search for bodies from the ill-fated boiat that capsized on Lake Victoria claiming 30 lives in November last year. PHOTO BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA. 

By Alex Niyonzima

By this time, most of the people who had been seated at our table had already started moving to the pier and were well ahead of me. I remember speeding up slightly along the pier, to try to get as close to the front of the line that was beginning to form.

I was one of the first people to board that first feeder boat. I went right to the back of this boat and took a seat next to its navigator. This is the area at which the engine is located. I was almost immediately joined by Prince Wasajja, who sat right opposite me.

The other seats on this boat were taken by passengers who included, Chuck Ndoori, who was also known as Chuck the Last King, Hope Mukasa, Iryn Namubiru, Shafik Ssentamu, Samalie, Sheila Gashishiri, Prince Arnold Simbwa, Tashobya Justine, Eddie Bamugye, Bryan, Ennedy Kathure, Jackie Sempa, Andrew Pollando, John Bosco Nyanzi, and others.
There was a sufficient number of lifejackets at the boarding point, into the feeder boat. Some of the passengers of the day chose to pick up a life-jacket at this point.

Others did not. I was one of those who did not pick up a life-jacket. I had been picking up a life-jacket on many previous occasions in the past, only to take it off when we got onto the bigger boat. It never seemed to have much purpose and there was never a single day when it had come in handy.
It almost seemed like some kind of inconvenience. That is how wrong I had been about the lifejacket.

The revellers
There was no list to tick off names, that day. To the best of my knowledge, there was no passenger manifest or a coupon system to control boarding onto the feeder boat. As long as one appeared to “look” like one of the people going for the cruise, (smartly dressed in colourful beach wear) or as long as one was in the company of some of the high profile or celebrity persons who were with us on that day, there would be no further need to subject that person to another round of verification or checking.

That is how it felt to me. I learned that the boat cruise, including all the drinks and the meals on the boat and at the K-Palm Resort, had been fully paid for by the sponsors or organizers of the event.
The first feeder boat got filled up with about 20-30 people. The boat’s captain made a 180 degree turn and headed to the anchored MV Templar. One of the main reasons we got onto the very first feeder boat was because usually, the boat did not have many nice spots for sitting.

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Majority of the seats available were usually secured on a, “first come first serve basis.” If one boarded late, he or she was likely to spend most of the boat cruise standing, which could be inconveniencing.
Sometimes, on some of the earlier boat cruises which I had attended aboard The MV Templar, the upper section I may call the Upper Deck, would be cordoned off and reserved for a particular group, which had made prior arrangements with the management. Most times, it was free seating, with open access to all public areas for the passengers of the day.

Spooky premonition
As we approached the boat, at a distance of about 30 to 50 metres away, I took my first good look at the vessel. It was my first time to see her in probably a year. From afar, she looked like she had been freshly painted. There was evidence of new shiny sky blue paintwork on the entire boat and a small addition in white paint, which appeared to depict ‘Shark Jaws’.
It was my first time seeing that shark jaw-like paintwork on the boat. As we got closer, I noticed that the boat appeared to have about five or eight young crewmen.

They were moving around on it, preparing the vessel for its voyage. Good quality music was blasting from the music system on-board. We disembarked from the feeder boat and got onto The MV Templar through a little door which had been opened on the portside of the boat, (the left hand side of the boat).
We were assisted by one or two crewmen on The MV Templar to disembark from the feeder boat and get onto the bigger vessel.

I got onto The MV Templar and secured myself space at a table marked No.1 in the indexed illustration at the end of this book. I sat next to Jackie Sempa, who was closest to the hull of the boat, on the portside. Opposite me, sat Samalie and Sheila Gashishiri. Andrew Pollando sat on table marked No.5, together with Shafik.
Later, Samalie and Sheila chose to stand or to leave their seat to Prince Wasajja. I remember he didn’t actually sit at this table but from time to time, he would come to this table and we would have a quick conversation.

First red flag
My very first action, as soon as I secured the seat by placing my jacket on it, was to go to the back of the boat to the place where the engines are located and take a look. To this day, I do not understand why I did that. It must have been some kind of sixth sense reaction.
I saw that the boat was powered by two engines, that day. It is only later when I learned that they were called, “outboard engines,” and was told that these were actually emergency engines. I noticed that the lids or top covers of both engines were open and I could see the various engine parts.

In hindsight, this was the red flag; having seen both outboard engines of the boat open like that and someone who seemed like a mechanic on-board. Naturally, I was concerned. But I kept my worries to myself. I took my seat and waited for the feeder boat to continue bringing more of the day’s passengers aboard, so that we could get going.
I looked at my watch round about this time. It was reading 4:54pm. I noticed that there was a certain young man, probably in his early twenties, standing beside these engines in that small engine area at the back or the stern of the boat.

He was dressed in sky blue T-shirt with some dark spots of oil on it and black pair of trousers. I assumed he was some kind of mechanic. To my left, I saw Templar, the owner of the boat. He was seated on a guard rail separating the engine area.

It had been ages since I had last seen Temp; probably more than a year. He looked different from the last time I’d seen him. He had on him this stern expression on his face which I cannot even describe. There was not a slightest trace of a smile on him that day. I imagined that it was probably because he was having such a hard day at the office, trying to make that trip work and not to disappoint people who were eagerly anticipating the cruise. I nodded to him in greeting; a slight nod, and he returned the nod. That was the first and last time I interacted with him directly, on that day.

Sometime in the past, probably towards the middle of 2018, in May or June, in one of those random conversations I had with Prince Wasajja, most probably at the Kampala Hash, I had asked him about Templar. That conversation probably went like this:

ME: How is Templar, by the way?
HIM: Man, Templar is unwell.
ME: What do you mean he is unwell?
HIM: Well, Templar was diagnosed with kidney failure quite recently. He has been at a Kampala Hospital for a while recently, where he was being treated for this condition.
ME: Kidney failure? That sounds quite serious. What stage is it?
HIM: Stage 5.
ME: (Alarmed) What!? Are you sure? That is the final stage!!

HIM: Yes, indeed. He suffered stage five kidney failure and he was undergoing dialysis, on a regular basis.
So, when I learned that Templar had suffered from this ailment, I felt that that was very tough on him and on the business. Sometime, later that year and at the funeral services, I discovered that his family had managed the situation quite well and he was on course to getting a kidney transplant, in the nearest future, probably in the next couple of months after 24th November, 2018.

I strongly suspect that this kidney issue was part of a chain of events which led to the disaster that occurred that day. Perhaps, funds that should have been meant for making necessary repairs and maintenance works on the vessel were being diverted to pay medical bills? To this day, I wonder if I shall ever get an answer to that question.

While the boat was getting set to begin moving, Prince Wasajja came to the table at which I was sitting and said to me:
“Omanyi Freemaani kyangambye?” (Do you know what Freeman just told me?”
I told him: “Needa, akugambye kki?” (No, what did he tell you?”)

Him: “Freemaani angambye, nti yali tamanyi nti elyaato lino kadde nnyo bweriti!” (Freeman says he was not aware the boat was too old.)
I think Freeman had also just seen the deplorable condition that the boat was in that day. I must have also shaken my head in amazement.

Second red flag
Things did not look right on the boat, that day. Prince Wasajja stayed around our table for a while. Then, we heard a very loud screeching sound. It seemed to be coming from the engine area. It appeared as if an effort was being made to start the engines.
A loud, most awful sound emerged from the outboard engines, as an attempt to start them, began. I looked at Prince Wasajja. He looked back at me. We shook our heads in amazement.

“What the hell is going on?” I thought to myself. I had never heard the engines sound like that. Never! It was a loud screeching sound like nothing I had ever really heard before. After an eighth or ninth try, the engines finally started and the quieter sound of them idling took over. It looked like whatever problem bothering them, had been resolved. The engines had started. We looked all-set to begin our cruise.
As I was thinking about the state of the boat that day, I glanced up and noticed that there was a policeman on-board.

He was dressed in the regular khaki brown uniform of the Uganda Police but also had an orange life-jacket, on which were written the words, “Marine Police.”
This policeman was at the area near the bar talking to some people who were standing around there.
I could not hear what he was telling them, but I thought he was probably urging them to make sure they put on their life-jackets because shortly thereafter, I saw them scrambling to put on their lifejackets.

Some of these people had been holding their lifejackets under the armpit; others had slung them over their shoulders, while others had just put them on the seats or tables where they were seated. This was the first time that I “really” noticed that I, too, did not have a lifejacket.

Third red flag
The first engine failure happened about 10-15 minutes, after our departure from the docking area off KK Beach.
I looked around me and saw that we were in the vicinity of Ggaba harbour.
We were in an area where I could see the plush residence of Sir Gordon Wavamunno and the nearby large piece of land owned by the Agha Khan Foundation.

To the extreme right, could see the National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC of Kampala Water Station in Ggaba, which extends well into the lake for a considerable distance. We were still within the Ggaba Munyonyo area and the boat was seated right in the middle of the relatively wide Bay area.

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