MV Bukoba ‘painful death’

TANZANIA: FORMER Vice-Chancellor of the University of Dar es Salaam, Professor Rwekaza Mukandala, lectures on what Tanzanians should learn from the ill-fated vessel through his professorial lecture titled: ‘States, Markets, and Institutional Failure: Lessons from the Induced birth, Tortured Life, and painful Death of MV Bukoba.

On May 21, 1996 at 7:30 am, MV Bukoba was only few kilometres away from Mwanza; it started swinging from one side to another, a major signal of danger. Then, it swayed to one side with 27 tonnes of loose cargo and over 800 passengers aboard, a number, which was above its capacity of 400 passengers.

MV Bukoba had never been registered, had no operating license and had never undergone any major technical services.

In a nutshell, the vessel was a time bomb. Giving a professorial inaugural lecture, the distinguished professor highlighted technical problems, overloading, blood-sucking contracts, violation of public procurement procedure, negligence and lack of expertise in decision making as among causes of endless pain caused by MV Bukoba tragedy.


The don said the ship was constructed in 1979 by Belgium Shipping Company (BSC). However, due to the violation of procurement procedures, the company did not follow ship construction standards as required. He said there were only three engineers from Belgium who were supervising the construction along with 63 local technicians who had no knowledge on ship construction at all.

Moreover, upon completion of the construction, not single trial was conducted on the ship before it was commissioned in August, 1979. Prof Mukandala added that the ship was quite different from the proposed design.

“The company built another ship from the one designed for Tanzania, thus the country was given a different ship,” he said.

However, the design and drawings of the ship were not approved by the authoritative bodies before the commencement of MV Bukoba construction. Prof Mukandala said experts from Denmark, Germany and Belgium produced their report after conducting inclination and stability tests on MV Bukoba.

He said in 1984 experts from Denmark recommended that the ship was not stable on water and that it needed to be filled with water in its underneath tanks number 7 to number 12 for it to maintain the ship’s centre of gravity.

From April 30, 1996 to May 6, 1996 experts from Belgium found the ship without water in its underneath tanks.

“The experts from one of Universities in Belgium were surprised to find no water in the ship’s tanks, they told workers and supervisors that it was very dangerous to sail without water,” he said.

Experts from Germany also pointed out that the ship was not safe and that it needed major repair.

However, all the reports were disputed and ignored by the constructing company, Belgium Shipping Company (BSC). On the eve of fateful day (May 20, 1996), the ship started journey from Bukoba Port in the evening carrying bananas, a car, Land Rover and many passengers above its capacity.

The ship also passed through Kemondo Port, where it loaded more cargo and passengers. Prof Mukandala said the Commission of Enquire led by Judge, Robert Kisanga revealed that the ship was overloaded beyond limit, the number of passengers exceeded 800 from its capacity of 400. Majority of passengers had no tickets.

“Judge Kisanga’s Commission revealed that the ship was overloaded with passengers, some had tickets and others had no tickets, TRC (Tanzania Railway Corporation) had no records of some of the passengers, the information was obtained from those who lost their loved one in Kagera, the number of bodies and survivals,” he noted.

He added a consignment of banana, a land Rover and other cargo were left loose on the ship’s deck, a situation which caused the ship to lose stability. Upon leaving Kemondo Port, according to Prof Mukandala, the ship had lost stability and was sailing in a totter and stagger – an alcoholic drunkard’s walk’ style.

Prof Mukandala said the ship was taking in water, while swinging from side to side.

The ship was loaded too much, above the waterline. At 7:30 am, MV Bukoba concluded the 17 years of floating on Lake Victoria waters by claiming over 800 lives. The ship swayed, bananas, a Land Rover and other cargoes shifted to one side.

ALSO READ: MV Bukoba accident, 28 years of unforgotten tale

The Shifting cargo displaced the vertical center of gravity of a ship and thus caused the ship to capsize. He said by the time the ship was close to arriving at Mwanza Port, it had already used 2.5 tonnes of fuel, thus the ship completely lost stability.

Prof Mukandala said lack of proper communication, poor preparations and absence of well-trained emergency rescue personnel made the situation more difficult.

He said MV Bukoba overturned at 7:30 am and it totally sunk at 3pm, thus there was 7and 30minutes hours for rescue teams to save lives. The don said some survivals recounted that their fellow passengers who managed to grab life jackets or whatever that enabled them to float were attacked by aquatic creatures.

Moreover, when the ship capsized, there was still a functioning generator which continued to produce electricity, causing current flow and thus electrical shock that could have been another cause for deaths of some people onboard the ship.

Moreover, when the ship overturned, the fuel leaked from tanks and thus was taken in by drowning passengers causing them painful deaths.

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