Several private partners in the Ugandan maritime industry have started efforts to revamp and utilise the already existent dry docking site at Port Bell in Luzira as means to save resources as marine operators take vessels for repair in Mwanza, Tanzania.
Uganda has for the past seven years not utilised the port for major ferry servicing until a marine operating company, Kalangala Infrastructure Services Limited, requested to utilise the docking site last Friday.
A dry-dock is machinery that is used to lift ferries and other marine vessels from the water to allow engineers look beneath the vessel and carry out major renovations and routine service.
Uganda has had the dry docking site for 30 years but it has remained disused. All the while, ferries including MV Kalangala, MV Ssese and MV Pearl were being taken to Mwanza, Tanzania, for dry docking, in the process spending up to Shs2b for each ferry to get servicing in Mwanza.
The dock, which was constructed by the Belgium government to facilitate smooth operations of water transport, was a donation to Uganda.
The other dry docking sites in East Africa are situated at Port Florence in Kenya and Mwanza, Tanzania.
“On doing a feasibility study, we realised that Uganda had a dry docking site where our Vessel MV Ssese would undergo maintenance. This will help the company save up to $100,000,” says Prof John Ssenfuma, the chairperson of Kalangala Infrastructure Services, which runs two marine vessels.
On neglecting the dry docking site in Port Bell and taking the vessels to Mwanza for servicing at a cost of Shs2b per vessel, Mr Julius Mukasa Opondo, the Member of Parliament for Bujumba County in Kalangala District, says: “This is wastage of resources, why would government leave a free service delivery point and opt to spend more money in a nearby country? Don’t the people in Uganda need the money too?”
Mr Fred Badda, one of the Members of Parlaiemnt who plays an oversight role on MV Kalangala, says that company would use close to $400 every day to rent a dry docking machine in Luzira, while the government rents a dry docking site in Mwanza at $5,000 a day whenever MV Kalangala is taken for major servicing.
“We requested government through Parliament to utilise the dry docking site in Luzira and failed. They instead opted to go for the Mwanza dry docking site which was very expensive and exploitative to the Ugandan government,” Mr Badda says.
Other nine mini ferries operated by the Uganda National Roads Authority, according to Mark Ssali, the UNRA spokesperson, are taken to the Luweero service point for overhauling while bigger marine vessels such as MV Pamba and MV Kaawa remain docked and dilapidated at Port Bell in Luzira.
MV Kaawa has since been grounded after a head-on collision with another vessel MV Kabalega in 2005.
Kabalega capsized in Lake Victoria and government has not drawn plans to retrieve it. All the ferries used to transport goods to and from the ports of Mwanza and Florence in Tanzania and Kenya, respectively.
Hindrance to trade
The grounded ferries have since hindered trade between the three major inland ports of East Africa. Also, the government has since changed the management of the port and vessels from Rift Valley Railways to Uganda Railways Corporation.
Currently, several traders across the ports face challenges in transporting goods to and from the country, with a heavy cost implication.
“The cost of transporting a container from Kisumu to Uganda by road is twice the cost of transporting using a ship. This leaves us incurring heavy losses with limited remedies,” says Isaac Ssenoga, a trader who uses MV Kaawa for transport.
Ms Suzan Kataike, the Works ministry spokesperson, in a telephone interview, said that it would be cheaper for the government to utilise services here in the country than having a service delivered at a higher cost in Mwanza.