MV BUKOBA TRAGEDY: The untold story

  • Prof Mukandala shares his perspectives
  • Cautions on blood sucking contracts

DAR ES SALAAM: FORMER University of Dar es Salaam Vice Chancellor Professor Rwekaza Mukandala on Tuesday pointed out reasons behind the most tragic accident in the history of marine transport in the country that led to the death of over 800 people in Lake Victoria waters, 28 years ago.

MV Bukoba overturned and capsized in the wee hours of May 21, 1996, causing endless pain to the residents of the Lake zone and Tanzanians at large. Giving a professorial inaugural lecture titled ‘States, Markets, and Institutional Failure: Lessons from the Induced Birth, Tortured Life, and Painful Death of MV Bukoba, Prof Mukandala mentioned the reasons behind the tragedy as overloading, poor construction of the vessel and disregard of safety regulations and ignoring of routine maintenance and repairs.

He added that reports from the Commission of Enquiry led by Judge Robert Kisanga and other experts revealed that officials and workers of the ill-fated vessel had limited understanding on ships and marine operations.

He said most coxswains employed had no licenses to navigate the vessel. Prof Mukandala added that the ship, which officially started operations from August, 1979 had never been registered until the day it capsized on May 21, 1996.

“MV Bukoba started operations in 1979, and until it capsized 17 years later, the vessel had not been registered, so it had no operating license,” said Prof Mukandala.

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He added that blood sucking contracts was another reason behind the tragic accident, saying after the collapse of the former East African Community in 1977, Tanzania had no ship to operate in Lake Victoria. He said efforts to seek soft loans from various nations proved futile until it secured one from the Belgian government.

“The government had no choice except to take a concessional loan from the Belgium government, which wanted the three vessels to be built by a Belgium company,” he said.

According to Prof Mukandala’s findings, the government of Tanzania was in no position to negotiate and the tender for the construction of the vessels was not announced.

“In other words, the Belgium government chose the Belgium Shipping Corporation (BSC) to build the three vessels for Tanzania,” he said.

He added that the terms of construction contracts were too harsh for Tanzania, where the transportation of parts from Belgium to Dar es Salaam and later to Mwanza were all paid by the Tanzanian government. Also, the government of Tanzania was responsible to pay for the vessels trial cost after construction.

“From the day of first trial, MV Bukoba was swinging from side to side, it was not stable, in its first journey to Bukoba, the ship could not manage to carry 30 tonnes, it was always taking in water, but still nothing was done to contain the situation,” he noted.

According to Prof Mukandala, many people, including experts from Germany and Denmark warned on the ship’s stability problem. A ship always remains upright because its center of mass is substantially lower than its center of buoyancy, but this was not the case with MV Bukoba. However, the BSC refuted the reports.

“The experts said MV Bukoba must be filled with water in its underneath tanks to constitute a large free surface and the weight of the water increase the vessel’s centre of gravity, however, when the accident occurred, the vessel had no water in the said areas,” he noted.

Prof Mukandala said the issue of safety and security is of paramount importance in Tanzania due to the number of fatal marine accidents. He said for the country to overcome the problem, there was need for the country to avoid blood sucking contracts. He said MV Bukoba was a result of such unfavourable contracts.

He added that Tanzania needs to build capacity to its experts and employ perfect and competent people in the given discipline. He also proposed for the improvement of safety and rescue systems as well as better payments.

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