MV Bukoba accident, 28 years of unforgotten tale

KAGERA: ON May 21, 1996 Zacharia Rutakurembelwa (65), a resident of Missenyi District’s Bukabuye village was among the passengers on the MV Bukoba steamer.

He was heading to Dar es Salaam on a business trip. The MV Bukoba was on routine journey from Bukoba Port via Kemondo to Mwanza Port. However, the ship capsized and sank about eight kilometers from Mwanza City killing over 800 passengers.

“I was awakened by a terrified co-passenger at around 6 a.m. who told me that something was amiss as the steamer had lost stability. I quickly pulled a life-jacket and put it on my body. Instantly, I heard a big bang and was thereupon thrown about five meteres deep into the Lake. I guess I lost consciousness for three to five minutes. When I regained, I was floating into the water and the ship had already capsized and everything was in total confusion,” he recounts with tears rolling down his cheeks.

The accident happened at around 6.30 a.m. and he was rescued at around 11 a.m. Bodies had started floating. It was a grisly incident. Mr Rutakurembelwa said it would be appropriate if the government marked May 21 a national public holiday to enable fellow Tanzanians to commemorate the event.

The day should remind all of us of what happened and give a platform for us to discuss the best ways to avoid such kind of accidents in future. The Government should also construct a monument at the Kagera Regional Commissioner’s offices with names of people who died in the mishap and those who survived the accident.

“Since 1996 I have stopped traveling by steamer. Every time I avoid the water and instead travel by road,” he said.


Several families lost their dear ones including the family of Lutanjuka from Rukulungo village, in Missenyi district who lost 23 relatives who were heading to Dar es Salaam after attending a funeral of their parent.

During the ordeal, about 332 bodies were recovered and were taken by their relatives for burial, other 391 bodies were buried by the government at Igoma area, in Mwanza City while 114 passengers survived the accident.

Improving the marine transport sector has been one of the government priorities. In fulfilling its pledges, the government allocated budget for major rehabilitation and construction of new vessels and ferries in Lake Victoria, Lake Nyasa, Lake Tanganyika and in Indian Ocean.

MV Victoria ‘Hapa Kazi Tu’ recently launched its official routes. For almost six years people have been waiting for the occasion. The revival of this vessel means a lot to the public. Kagera citizens have hailed the sixth-phase government under President Samia Suluhu Hassan as the MV Mwanza Hapa Kazi Tu ship started operations.

The revival of this vessel means a lot to the public. Hassan Byombalirwa (54), from Kashai Ward in Bukoba Municipal said citizens had for a long time been waiting anxiously for the MV Mwanza Hapa Kazi Tu ship.

“Many citizens in the Lake Zone regions still have sad memories of the sinking of the MV Bukoba in 1996 which paralysed many businesses. We thank the government for the efforts to revive marine transport,” he said.

Kagera Regional Administrative Secretary (RAS), Mr Stephen Ndaki, on his side, urged citizens in the Lake Zone regions –Mwanza, Geita, Kagera, Mara, Shinyanga and Simiyu to utilize to the maximum the opportunity by doing business and increase production of cash and food crops.

“The MV Mwanza Hapa Kazi Tu is a golden opportunity. Citizens in the Lake Zone regions –Mwanza, Geita, Kagera, Mara, Shinyanga and Simiyu to utilize to the maximum the opportunity by doing business and increase production of cash and food crops” he said.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for Marine Services Company Limited (MSLC), Mr Eric Hamiss, explained that the newly-built MV Mwanza Hapa Kazi Tu has a lot of benefits to Tanzania and its people, as it contributes to strengthening marine transport, including creating employment opportunities for over 2,000 locals.

“Being the first ship to be locally built in the country, the project has also created experts through skill and knowledge transfer from foreigners to locals. We therefore, have the database for those who will be participating in more ships building and related activities in future. Adding….”The vessel which weighs 3, 500 tonnes will operate across East African region. Efforts are ongoing in identifying more routes for the vessel with the capacity to carry 400 tonnes of cargo and 1,200 passengers,” said the CEO.

Deputy Minister for Transport, Mr David Kihenzile, on his side, explained that the government invests a lot in marine transport. He said recently, the government entered into the over 1tr/- worth of agreements for such activities. The total cost for the project stood at over 49.3 million US dollars upon its completion, he said.

South Korea based companies-Gas Entec in collaboration with Kangnam Corporation were contracted to build the ship.

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