Travellers from Entebbe to the island district of Kalangala are using risky canoes after MV Kalangala suspended its operations at the weekend.
The vessel, which plies the Lutoboka-Nakiwogo route, temporarily suspended operations to allow it undergo annual mandatory servicing.
Although there are other private vessels plying the same route like MV Vanessa and MV SENCATA, many Islanders claim they cannot afford the fares demanded by the vessel operators.
The private vessels charge between Shs20,000 and Shs30,000 per trip, which is almost thrice the fare travellers in the lower class of MV Kalangala pay. Passengers in MV Kalangala VIP pay Shs20,000, first class Shs15,000 and ordinary class pay Shs10,000.
“The private vessels are available but I cannot afford their fares. Let us use the canoes as we wait for MV Kalangala to return,” Mr Ben Kisakye, a regular traveller to Kalangala, said before boarding a canoe yesterday.
Ms Margret Ssempagama, the manager of MV SENCATA, said her vessel will charge Shs20,000 per trip .
Mr Simon Peter Masaba, a transporter, said although the private vessels offer marine services to travellers, they do not take heavy cargo and vehicles.
“My truck carries six tonnes of cargo and without MV Kalangala, I cannot connect to Kalangala through Entebbe. I have to go through Bukakkata Landing Site in Masaka District, which attracts extra costs,” he said.
MV Kalangala is operated by Nation Oil Distributors Ltd, which signed a contract to transport travellers across Lake Victoria in April 2015. However, servicing and repairing of the vessel remains a responsibility of the Ministry of Works and Transport.
According to Mr Sadala Musoke, the chief executive officer of Nation Oil Distributors Ltd, servicing of the vessel will last one month.
This implies the vessel will resume normal operations around March 9. All vessels are supposed to be examined at intervals not exceeding two and half years.
MV Kalangala was last serviced in April 2018.
The servicing of the vessel, which is technically known as annual docking survey, is done at Port Bell –Luzira dry docking site and helps to check the vessel’s operational safety status.
During servicing, Mr Musoke said, particular attention will be paid to the stern frame and rudder, shell plating, external and through hull fittings, propeller, three dysfunctional lavatory units, a dysfunctional crane and poor lighting. The operating systems of tankers, chemical carriers and liquefied gas carriers will also be checked.
“We urge our clients to be patient because this exercise is for their own safety. The exercise will not take long and surveyors from abroad are already in the country to do the work together with our team of engineers,” he said.
The Works minister, Gen Katumba Wamala, urged travellers not to board boats which do not have life jackets.
“I urge the police and local leaders in Entebbe and Kalangala to help us enforce this so that we save lives of our people,” he said.
Daily Monitor has learnt that servicing of the vessel will cost Shs1b.
Mr Willy Lugoloobi, the Kalangala District chairperson, urged government to ensure that repair and servicing of the vessel is done in the stipulated time frame.
“It’s good that the vessel has finally gone for service, but let’s hope it will not take long. The same vessel was taken for service way back in 2015 and it took a period of one year and four months to return, which largely affected the district revenue,” he added.
Last year, government said they were in the process of procuring a second modern vessel to operate alongside MV Kalangala .
The new vessel is expected in the country this year and will be carrying between 200 and 300 passengers.
According to Mr Sadala Musoke, the chief executive officer of Nation Oil Distributors Ltd, servicing of the vessel will last one month. This implies the vessel will resume normal operations around March 9. All vessels are supposed to be examined in dry dock at intervals not exceeding two and half years. MV Kalangala was last serviced in April 2018.
Compiled by Sylvester
Ssenkabirwa & Eve Muganga