THE months of May, July, and September arguably arouse bad memories for some people, particularly those who lost their loved ones in marine accidents that claimed more than 2,000 lives in Lake Victoria and in two separate incidents in Zanzibar.
Although there have been several marine accidents, mainly involving small sea vessels including fishing boats, the ‘bad memories’ revolve around huge marime disasters that include MV Bukoba, carrying more than 1,000 passengers and cargo, which overturned and sank in Lake Victoria, half an hour before docking at Mwanza Port on May, 21, 1996.
MV Spice Islander I, a passenger ferry carrying over 2,000 passengers that sank off the coast of Zanzibar on September 10, 2011 was another sea tragedy followed by the sinking of MV Skagit, with more than 290 people aboard and cargo on July 19th 2012.
Every year different events are organised to remember those who died in the accidents, with repeated calls to improve sea transportation, mainly calling for accountability and strengthening of sea transport regulations.
Ms Mwanakombo Abdalla (51) who lost a husband in MV Skagit disaster says is now homeless after being kicked out the house. “After the death of my husband, his brothers ejected me out of the house (husbands’ house),” laments Ms Abdalla, a mother of two who hailed from Shiyanga.
There are widows and orphans in Zanzibar, victims of the widely spoken marine accidents, who have been giving similar stories of ordeal, as they ask assistance from NGOs and the government to support them.
Bad weather including strong winds which caused rough sea is blamed for the accidents, but findings by commissions (formed later to look into the vessels accidents) indicate that negligence, unprofessional conduct, and unaccountability, were the main ‘root cause’ of accidents.
The commission formed to look into the Mv Skagit vessel accident in July also recommended that the owner of the fateful boat be charged in court and all victims be compensated, but the implementation of the recommendations remains unclear to date.
Inspired by pressure groups and in efforts to avoid repeat of such accidents, both Zanzibar and union government have been taking different measures including review of marine transport safety laws, and improving the ‘Zanzibar Maritime Authority (ZMA)’ and the ‘Surface and marine Transport Regulatory Authority (SUMATRA).’
Search, rescue plan in marine transport But the recent introduction of ‘National Search and Rescue (SAR) plan’ to stakeholders of sea and air transport was another important move for disaster preparedness and to ensure that accidents are avoided or minimized in the East African region and beyond.
At the SAR training workshop, participants from the Aviation, sea transport authorities, Police, fishers, Ministries responsible for sea and airport transport, local/regional administration, and rescue & disaster departments, were briefed on procedures and the execution of search and rescue operations.
It was said at the workshop that SAR is about the search for and provision of aid to people who are in distress or imminent danger and that there is need to enhance the capacity of respective institutions to ensure they perform effectively in saving lives and property during search and rescue process.
Some fishermen like Mr Mzee Ame Makame and those who survived from the accidents, talk about ‘poor response’ in rescue operations which include delays, lack of facilities, and lack of skills to save lives.
“Most of the users of the sea (like us Fishers) always get involved in rescue missions. It is unfortunate that we lack skills, and equipments that can help to save people in danger. It is high time the government improves disaster and rescue department,” Mr Makame said.
Mr Haji Shomar ‘sea surveillance’ officer said that his department requires modern facilities to improve search and rescue operationswhen accidents occur during bad weather. Mr Abdalla Kombo, Director, ZMA said since there has been increasing use of air and sea transport, it necessitates the need for sharing of experiences in addressing the challenges in search and rescue operations.
“We need to be committed to ensure safety and also improve search and rescue operations in the region. Disaster in recent years should help us improve our operations,” Mr Kombo said adding that Zanzibar plans to purchase three rescue boats to be placed at the proposed ‘Rescue centres’ of Mkokotoni (Unguja Island), Mkoani and Wete ports (in Pemba Island).
Ms Stella Joshua Katondo from ‘Safety and Environment’ department- Minister for Works, Transport and Communications said training workshop provides skills and knowledge required by emergency responders during search and rescue operations in the inland waters and at the oceans.
She said “Getting prepared for an emergency is important and demands knowing what to do in a variety of difficult situations. Wee need knowledge, at least by sharing experience, necessary to provide required assistance in the region.”
The workshop provided basic knowledge on the planning and management of search and rescue organizations, while Ms Katondo pointed out that search and rescue is an international obligation and countries, like members of the EAC, have to incorporate it into their policy and plans.
Mr Mohamed Ngwali from the Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA) said getting proper information about weather is also important in minimizing disasters, “We should realise that incidents at sea and in the air pose a risk to human lives and property in every region of the world.”
He said that rescue organizations, weathers forecasts and other stakeholders in the region should promote maritime and aeronautical networking and coordination for effectiveness and efficiency.
At the end of the workshop participants concluded by agreeing to promotion of public safety campaigns; campaigns to ensure the support of government decision-makers; media assistance; to enhance cooperation between SAR services and other State agencies.
It was further agreed that there is an urgent need to set up Rescue Centres at different Sea Ports including in neighbouring countries and along the lakes region, and that the ‘Rescue Centres’ will keep a constant watch on Shipping and aircraft movements.