Minister, Kalangala leaders clash on night travel boat ban

The State minister for Transport, Mr Fred Byamukama. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • This comes barely a week after a giant wooden boat locally capsized on Lake Victoria.

Authorities in the island district of Kalangala have clashed with State minister for Transport, Mr Fred Byamukama, over the directive banning passenger private boats sailing at night.

Last Thursday, the district security committee passed a resolution banning all night travels from any landing site in the district. 

But Mr Byamukama insists that boat owners and skippers should simply be guided on how to operate at night.

According to Ms Eva Kwesiga, the Kalangala Resident District Commissioner, boat owners and skippers have been using the night to overload their boats thus causing accidents, with the latest one claiming at least 25 lives last Wednesday.

“From now onwards, it is not allowed to travel at night because most of those boat skippers have been using that chance to smuggle items and overload their boats,” she said. 

Ms Kwesiga was backed by the district chairperson, Mr Rajab Ssemakula, and Mr Deo Ssentiba, the spokesperson of Fisheries Protection Unit under the army marine forces, both arguing that the night travel ban is intended to save lives of travellers on the lake. 

“Ever since we started recording these accidents, we have realised that most of them occur at night where no one can rush to rescue our people,” Mr Ssemakula said.
Mr Ssentiba said his team is ready to enforce the night travel ban across all water bodies.

“…those [boat skippers] found transporting passengers on lakes at night shall be charged for negligence or any other charges as we shall consider,” he said.

According to Mr Ssemakula, there is already an existing government directive barring traditional wooden boats from sailing at night because they are not fitted with modern navigation systems.

“None of those boats meet the minimum safety requirements to sail at night.” he added.

But minister Byamukama said in an interview on Saturday that sailors need to inform area police before setting off so that they can be monitored along the way.

“Banning night travel is unnecessary. Some passengers with cargo would wish to reach early in the market, so we have asked police to ensure that they allow them to leave like at 5am and guide them on the safer routes to take,” he said.

The minister said under this new arrangement, police officers at the landing site where the boat comes from, will liaise with their colleagues along the route to ensure that passengers reach safely.

“In case the boat gets a problem, the occupants can easily get assistance. We also expect details of passengers and their next of kin to be recorded before they set off,” he said.

This comes barely a week after a giant wooden boat locally known as Kinaala enroute from   Lwanabatya, Ntuuwa, and Kisaba landing sites in Kyamuswa County, Kalangala District to Kasenyi on mainland Entebbe in Wakiso District, capsized with 30 passengers. Only 10 passengers survived the accident after the boat was blown many nautical miles off course in a severe windstorm before it capsized.

The ill-fated boat, which was sailing at night, was reportedly packed with bags of charcoal, fresh foods and silverfish.

By yesterday, police and army marine teams had managed to retrieve only 10 bodies, six women and four men of people who drowned in the wee hours of last Wednesday morning. 

Kampala Metropolitan police spokesperson Patrick Onyango said their team searching for bodies had been challenged by bad weather on the lake.

“We kindly request the public, especially those with missing relatives, to remain patient and composed as the rescue team continues to work tirelessly around the clock in their search and recovery operation,” he said. 

Last week, Mr Ssemakula partly accepted the blame for the tragedy, saying both local and national leaders had not done enough to save the lives of water transport users.

“It is an indictment on us the leaders when our people are dying and we fail to get a solution. As a district, we are going to work closely with marine police to ensure that the already existing ordinance on water transport safety management is fully enforced,” he said.   

Seven years ago, Kalangala leaders passed a district ordinance to streamline water transport in the area.

The ordinance was one of several measures to put in place in response to the rising deaths of passengers and loss of cargo while in transit to the mainland. The other measure was an order for all passengers and cargo boats traversing Lake Victoria to acquire water/ seaworthy certificates.

However, majority of the boats have continued to transport passengers and cargo through different routes on Lake Victoria without fulfilling any of the requirements stipulated under the ordinance. 

Mr Said Kasasira, a skipper of a passenger boat plying the Kachanga-Lutoboka route, said sailing at night is caused by pressure from passengers, mainly traders, in their pursuit to deliver their goods in markets in Kampala and Wakiso early in the morning.

“On our way, we usually come across fellow fishermen with goods on various islands that we can’t leave and in the process we end up overloading. All this is done to raise money for taxes and also have something to save,” he said. 

On why most passengers do not wear life-saving jackets, Mr Kasasira said the jackets are very expensive and they usually encourage passengers to carry theirs “but at times we sail without anyone putting on one. 
“What we do is to carry some jerrycans as a life saving measure,” he added. 

The list
Some of the deceased’s bodies recovered include Winnie Nankya (29), Proscovia Namulondo (44), Edith Najjuma (30), Angel Zamu Longose Mutesi (35), Glades Nabiseere (40) and Derrick Okumu (20). 

Those whose bodies are still missing are Nicholas Mukuutwa, Grace Nakato (18), Francis Kalegeya, Melida Wasemba, and Moses Ssimbwa (25).
The survivors include Michael Odong, Godfrey Ndugwa, Joseph Lule, Lawrence Kiiza, Julius Ssiida (skipper), Mama Kambuggu and Sadiri Magezi. 

Source: Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre Toll Free 110
Compiled by Al Mahdi Ssenkabirwa, Ivan Walunyolo, David Sekayinga and Antonio Kalyango