What happened before the boat capsized

Saturday December 14 2019

Alex Niyonzima , one of the survivors, narrates

Alex Niyonzima , one of the survivors, narrates the sad ordeal of what happened before, during and after the tragic boat incident . COURTSEY PHOTO 

By Alex Niyonzima

The first thing I did upon arrival at KK Beach was to take a closer look at the horizon on the lake to try and find the boat. There was no boat to be seen.
The MV Templar was not in its usual position. For a moment, I went into a mini panic. The possibility that the boat had left me behind felt unusual. I walked towards the area where the passengers usually sit and contemplated calling Shafik.
I wanted to ask him if the boat had taken off. But before I could do so, I noticed a group of people down the beach. All seats appeared to be taken. Almost all the tables available at the beach were occupied. Even the regular beach goers who enjoy swimming were quite a number that day.
When I walked down to the main seating area, I began to see familiar faces among those that were seated at the tables. I went to the table on which Prince Arnold Simbwa was seated and we exchanged pleasantries.
I headed to the table on which Prince Wasajja was seated. It was the first time I had ever seen the popular artiste, Iryn Namubiru upclose. She was seated next to Hope Mukasa on the same table.
It was also the time I caught up with Hope Mukasa after a very long time. Probably more than 10 years or so. Hope Mukasa, is a popular Kampala socialite, who is recognised in real estate, entertainment and music spheres in Uganda and beyond.
On that same table, I recognised Samalie. I had seen her on a couple of functions that I had attended in the past. She was seated next to another woman whom I later got to know as, Sheila Gashishiri Mbonimpa. There was Justine Tashobya (also known as, “Kandahar”, at the Kampala Hash). I also saw Francis Ssenkezi (also known as “So-so” at the Kampala Hash).
Next to him was Bryan Ssuuna, whom I had seen at the previous Monday Hash. Next to them was another woman I later got to know as, Jackie Sempa.
Next to Sempa, I noticed John Bosco Nyanzi, who was seated right at the end of a bench on this table. Nyanzi, who sadly, lost his life that day, invited me to join them at this table.
Nyanzi showed me an assortment of drinks on the table and asked me the type of drink I wanted to have. I smiled back at him. There was so much to choose from. I remember seeing five different bottles of popular alcoholic drinks on the table. Most of these were almost full, not much had been drawn from them.
I could see a large bottle of Johnnie Walker Double Black. There was a bottle of Bailey’s and a bottle of Amarula. There was a bottle of Jameson’s. There was a bottle of white wine, which could have been Four Cousins. There were few disposable cups to dispense these drinks.

Some of the people who perished in Lake
Some of the people who perished in Lake Victoria when MV Templar capsized. NET Photo

I looked around me and all I could see was a party atmosphere. People around were enjoying their time at the beach. Children were running around the sand parts of the beach playing hide and seek.
Some of the regular beach goers were swimming in the lake. Great music was playing in the background. It was a great day to be at the beach.
I got myself a disposable cup and poured a couple of tots of the John Walker Double Black whiskey. I usually like to have my whisky with a bit of a mixer, usually Coca Cola. I did not see any cocktails at the table.
I went to the counter and bought myself a 500ml plastic bottle of Coca Cola. I was still nursing a hangover from the previous long night. That is perhaps why I was not in the mood of drinking alcohol that afternoon.
Given the wide array of drinks available, I realised that it would not be a good idea to start drinking early. There were signs that it was going to be a long day and night. At that point, I was telling myself to rehydrate and drink later, probably on the boat or at K-Palm.
After punching my drink, I returned to the table and asked: “Naye banange, elyaato lili ludda wa?” (Where is the boat, if I may ask?)
Someone on the table smiled at me and said, “Gwe kkakana. Elyaato lijja”. Meaning, “Just calm down. The boat is on its way?”
At about 2:45pm, I checked WhatsApp messages on my phone, as a way of passing time. All this while, I decided to drink as much water as I could. I was very thirsty and needed more water that afternoon. Thirty minutes later, I went back to the cash bar to buy more bottles of water.
The day before this boat cruise was Friday, November 23, 2018, which is a big shopping day across the world, especially in the United States.
It is called “Black Friday”. Black Friday is an informal name for the day following Thanksgiving Day in the United States, which is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. Many stores offer big discounts on their products on such a day. It appeared that some of the drinks available at the beach that day had been bought at these Black Friday prices.
However, since the sponsors of the boat cruise were also wealthy people, they could afford the expensive wines and spirits that were available at the beach.
What was clear was that there were lots of drinks. After the boat cruise accident, one of the survivors remarked that at some point, when it appeared that the drinks were running low, one of the rich men made a call to a wholesale outlet in in Kikuubo, Kampala to order for more drinks.
The prices in Kikuubo are much lower than those you would find, for instance, in supermarkets or other retail outlets. About 30 per cent or less. This makes the place very attractive for buyers of wholesale goods.
There were a number of Kikuubo- based businessmen at KK Beach that afternoon. Most of the drinks were sponsored by the organisers. So, there was no need to worry about the bills.
One was only required to be seated at a table that had some invited guests to the boat cruise to be able to partake of the festivities of the day. This is how I spent my time when I arrived at KK Beach and later when the boat appeared.
People were taking selfies, having conversations and generally relaxing in the afternoon. Others were having the occasional serious discussion about business and investment.
At about 4:26pm, while I was seated at the same table, I heard people cheering and clapping. It seemed like the boat had been sighted as it made its way to KK Beach.
I stood up and looked at the general direction of where almost everyone’s attention was focused.
Indeed, I could see the distinctive sky-blue MV Templar making its way slowly towards the beach. I saw Sheila Bisase standing up and moving towards the parking lot. She was wearing a long brown dress, with a smile on her face. It was seemingly a sigh of relief.
All that waiting and hoping that the boat would eventually show up must have been very stressful to her as Templar’s wife and co-owner of K-Palm Resort where we were headed. I gave her a thumbs up and a big smile, which she returned.
I turned to Prince Wasajja and said: “Boss, this was quite close.”
Prince Wasajja thought about this statement for a while and responded to me: “Close? I think you can only say close when we are back on dry land.”
I meant that it was going to be big disappointment to everyone if the boat cruise had been cancelled again. Two weeks before that date, there had been a scheduled boat cruise, which had been cancelled and postponed because of technical issues.
After sighting the boat approaching the beach, I got ready to leave for the pier so that we could begin boarding. It took another five to 10 minutes for her to get to the usual docking position, just off KK Beach, Ggaba.
As soon as the MV Templar was anchored at its usual position, about 300 metres away from KK Beach Ggaba, someone on our table suggested that it would be a good idea to go with the first feeder boat.
It was clear many people were going to board that day. Going first would guarantee good spots to sit on the boat. All of us who were seated at this table got up and started moving towards the pier to catch the first feeder boat. The feeder boat was already in position on the pier.
I stood up and got my disposable plastic cup, which still had my two tots of Johnnie Walker Double Black that I had poured in it, when I first arrived at this table. I refilled with more tots and more Coca Cola and set it down on a cushioned seat, nearby, while I picked up my jacket.
I took a long look around our table just to make sure that nobody had forgotten or dropped any personal items on our table.
When I turned to pick my disposable glass of the Double Black and Coca Cola mix, I realised that it had poured.
It was strange that this disposable glass had fallen down and drink had all poured.
In hindsight, considering the events of the day, this is one thing among many that I have thought about over and over without reaching a satisfactory conclusion.
Look out for part three in Sunday Monitor as the author narrates details of what transpired before the MV Templar boat capsised.