MV Victoria, the biggest steamer that operates in the lake whose name it shares, is no longer the once majestic maritime transporter.
For relatively elderly people who saw the now nearly 53-year-old steamer when they were children and young adults, the cruiser approximates scrapyard material.
It is good news that the technical problem that arose in the steamer last Saturday night was detected not long after it had left Bukoba for the journey to Mwanza, and it was diverted to the nearby Kemondo Bay.
If the problem had emerged much farther into the lake, a disaster may have occurred and rekindled woeful memories of the MV Bukoba disaster in which an estimated 1,000 people died in May 1996.
The fact need not be belaboured, that, MV Victoria is a spent force and no longer the delightful floating paradise of the 1960s to the 1980s that even tourists fancied.
What’s more, the much improved road network in the Lake Zone has diminished interest in the steamer, whose relevance now lies largely in its role as a major cargo carrier.
It is thus a big trade facilitator, notably by way of ferrying bananas from Kagera Region to the rest of the Lake Zone, and a variety of consumer and other goods in the reverse direction.
Yet no benefits can override the preciousness of the lives of those travelling on the steamer, who are courting great risks.
It’s immediate replacement is hampered by limited government resources, and private sector participation via speed boat companies, hasn’t materialised so far.
Two options may be weighed. The steamer can be converted into a cargo carrier for the few more years that it’s likely to be in operation.
The other is to dock it at the Mwanza shore, and turn it into a multi-purpose complex featuring recreational facilities, a hotel wing, library and seminar halls.