As travellers make their way to the MV Kalangala ferry, Samuel Ligunda is already waiting for them. He is busy carrying out his usual safety checks before the ferry starts its journey to Bukakata, a lakeside town in Masaka District, central Uganda
To many, Ligunda is known as Captain White, a name given to him by colleagues in Tanzania. But to those he has lived and worked with, he remains a father and mentor of numerous mariners not only in Kalangala Island but in neighbouring countries.
“I was given the name after my colleagues realised that I could speak English fluently in a country where the dominant language is Kiswahili,” says Ligunda who is also fluent in Luganda, Swahili, and Norsk.
Ligunda, 70, was born in January, 1948, in Tanga, Tanzania and named after his father Simon Lawrence Ligunda, a former supervisor at the post office in Tanzania. When his father died in 1961, his mother Terezia Domic took on the responsibility of raising him.
As a Primary Five pupil at Ifakara Primary School in Tanzania, life was hard because his mother would struggle to get what to eat, let alone pay his school fees.
However, he persisted and went on to finish his secondary school education at Kwiro Secondary School in Tanzania in 1968. Even as a child, his passion was fishing. “When I was young, we lived near River Tanga. I could see people fishing, travelling on the waters day and night and that is where I got the passion to become a mariner,” Ligunda says.
In 1970, Ligunda attained Grade Three qualification as a fisheries officer at the Tanzania Fisheries Institute in Mwanza and this enabled him to be appointed as Bukoba fisheries officer in 1971, a position he held for five years and later went for further studies after securing a fishing sponsorship to Bergen City, Norway.
In 1978, he recalls that when he finished a Fishing Technology and Navigation course in England, he was immediately retained by Tanzania Fisheries Cooperation (TFC) as a fisheries operation officer but resigned in 1993 after three months of not being paid. The company eventually collapsed due to lack of resources to sustain the fishing activities.
Through John Opio, the Kalangala infrastructure services director, Ligunda was scouted from Tanzania and appointed water vessel operator for Kalangala in February 2011.
“I had worked with Opio in 2009 in Kalangala. So, when he asked me to return, I could not refuse,” Ligunda, says of his boss who camped in Tanzania for three days to convince him to return to Kalangala.
What he does
Although he is mainly a sailor, Ligunda is also a paramedic, trained to treat those who might get health problems while travelling on the ferry, especially expectant mothers.
“With the ferry, I have to check safety drills every week. I do navigation work and as a captain, I also know how to swim in case someone accidentally falls overboard. It is also my responsibility to assign other rescuers,” he says. “I have to listen to echo sounds which detect the depth of water and also the sensors plus the radar through which we communicate while on the ferry,” he adds.
Ligunda says he believes in personal, safety and social responsibility which guide him to monitor whatever is taking place. “In marine life, there is no guess work. When operating the ferry, the captain must be an expert because you hold many lives in your hands,” he shares.
As a senior mariner, Ligunda has good and bad memories while traversing the waters.
“Marine life is interesting. As a beginner I felt nervous the day I first used a ferry at MV Tanga in Tanzania. But today, travelling on water refreshes my minds, especially when I am a bit stressed,’’ he says.
Ligunda adds that keeping a family while doing sailing is also hard since many of his colleagues ended up separating with their wives. Although he married Joyce Mulundwa in 1973 in Tanzania, he was forced to marry two other women because he could not find time to always travel back home.
He also says he has missed a chance to be a better father. “In most cases, you have to think about work. I could take long to go back to Tanzania to see my wife Joyce and children,” says the father of six.
During his time as a sailor, Ligunda has seen different opportunities coming his way, made friends and expanded his working repertoire.
He has travelled to many countries including Zanzibar, Comoros and Europe where he has trained in different disciplines which altogether have moulded him into what he is today. Ligunda has also been able to master issues to do with water and ferry operation and has not been selfish with the knowledge as he has trained a number of mariners in Kalangala and Tanzania.
Although he has retired as the captain for KIS, Ligunda still holds sailing and fishing so dear. With the help of his son, Katts Lawrence Ligunda, he is venturing into fishing and he has already bought a boat for this purpose.
Samuel Ligunda says in Kalangala, the ferry travels at 7am, 9am, 10am, 12pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm and 6pm. The ferry, he says, accommodates 220 people, six trucks and 25 cars but he is certain, these laws have been always violated due to the number of people travelling, especially during busy seasons.
What they say
John Baptist Lubega, the ferry operation manager
“Ligunda is good at timekeeping. He works hard to ensure that the ferries operate effectively from 7am to 6pm everyday, which is not an easy task. His dedication is to be admired.”
John Opio, managing director, Kalangala infrastructure services
“I had known Samuel as a good employee, the reason I travelled to Tanzania to search for him. The company has benefited a lot and most of the staff members are internationally qualified with marine skills, a door which Ligunda opened up some years ago when he went for training abroad.