Dar es Salaam. Few weeks ago, a lawmaker in Tanzania spoke in parliament, urging the government to rehabilitate the MV Nyerere ferry which, as fate would have it, sank days later in Lake Victoria, killing over 100 people.
The MP for Ukerewe constituency, Mr Joseph Mkundi had, weeks earlier, appealed in parliament that the ferry’s engines be replaced, raising the alarm for quick action “instead of waiting to send condolences in case of an accident.”
A video clip in which the MP appears posing a question in parliament on the state of the ferry has gone viral on social media in Tanzania, as the country mourns the death of people who were on board the vessel.
“May I get the government’s response on this matter that we have been dealing with often times. It’s about this ferry that links Ukerewe District with Ukara Island. This ferry serves over 50,000 people,’’ said the MP for main opposition party, Chadema.
“This ferry has been frequently reported to be malfunctioning. I have been in regular communication with the relevant ministry. I don’t want to hear one day, such scenarios as, coming here in parliament to raise contributions or sending condolences for people who might have sunk with it,’’ warned the MP.
It has not been established immediately what the government’s response was; regarding the matter but on July 16, the Chief Executive Officer of Tanzania's Electrical and Mechanical Services Agency (Temesa), which operates the vessel, Dr Mussa Ngwatu told journalists in Mwanza that two new engines, each with161killowat power and a gear box (all costing up to Sh191million) had been installed into the vessel, with technical assistance from Delta Industrial Equipment Limited.
But, on that day, the Ferry’s Manager, an Engineer, Mr Hassan Karonda admitted that Mv Nyerere’s engine systems had been outdated.
MV Nyerere, on the afternoon of September 20 went down near Ukara Island in the southeast of Africa's largest lake and world’s second largest fresh water lake.
It was travelling from Bugorora Island to Ukara Island near Mwanza Region. Temesa says the vessel toppled over at 2.05pm, some 50 metres away from the dock at Ukara Island, Ukerewe District.
The cause of the accident hasn’t been officially established but it is believed it capsized when something went wrong with the distribution of the human cargo.
Reporters for The Citizen who are on the ground say the vessel might have overloaded and toppled over when crowds on board moved to one side as it was trying to dock.
There were no technical glitches reported immediately before the accident occurred as no incident was reported to the operator, TEMESA, officials say.
However, the Inspector General of Police, Simon Sirro arrived on the scene of the accident. He said investigations into the cause of the capsize would start soon as authorities battle to save lives and retrieve bodies.
Vessels’ capacity in focus
It is not clear how many people were on board when the ferry left the island. It is said that the ticketing officer is among those who perished.
TEMESA reported that the ferry had a capacity of about 100 passengers. Unconfirmed reports from the ground say the vessel ended up carrying at least 300 people, majority being traders.
With a 25-tonne cargo capacity and space for three small vehicles, the ferry is said to have left with a lorry loaded with cereals.
But the time the vessel left, however, sources say the weather was quite turbulent and lake waters were rough.
Meanwhile Vunjo MP, Mr James Mbatia has criticized the authorities for inconsistency in the way it handles disasters and for not putting in place well-established disaster preparedness systems.
He made the remarks just a day after a ferry disaster happened, where over 94 bodies have so far been recovered in the rescue operations. 40 people were rescued.