The Tanzanian ferry disaster, in which more than 200 people have so far been confirmed dead, may have come at a time the East African Community was just launching its maritime safety programme.
On Monday, the bloc comprising five countries, three of which share Lake Victoria, were just implementing the Multinational Lake Victoria Maritime Communications and Transport (MLVMCT), a programme meant to improve navigation safety and rescue on the region’s largest fresh water mass.
Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) Executive Secretary Ali-Said Matano regretted that the MV Nyerere tragedy had occurred barely two weeks after the project was commissioned.
The project, funded by Africa Development Bank (AfDB), is coordinated by Lake Victoria Basin Commission, headquartered in Kisumu, and will be undertaken by all the three countries (Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania).
A meeting of principal and permanent secretaries from the three countries, he noted, took place on September 6 in Kisumu “to fast-track the review of the technical aspects prior the construction” of the regional maritime rescue and coordination centres in Mwanza (Tanzania) and sub-centres in Entebbe (Uganda) and Kisumu.
But as with most government or intergovernmental decisions, the recent meeting only led to further bureaucracy; creating a team of experts from the three countries “to review and provide technical feedback” on the designs of the proposed centres, the official said.
Tanzania is mourning the death of 225 people after MV Nyerere sank just a few metres to the dock of Ukara island in Mwanza.
The toll could rise as the exact number of passengers remains unknown.
But Lake Victoria is not new to such disasters. In Mwanza in 1996, a ferry sank killing more than 894 people. There have been frequent boat disasters as well.
In June 2016, a boat carrying nine artistes capsized near Lihunda Beach as they headed to Ndeda island for a performance.
Dr Matano, failing short of admitting the slow implementation of the programme, was hopeful that the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres will be supported by 22 search and rescue units spread along the shoreline, equipped with telecommunications devices, speed boats and rescue boats with medical facility.
This project will be implemented over a period of four years.
“The East African Community-Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) condoles with the people and the Government of United Republic of Tanzania for this tragic accident.”