WHEN MV Bukoba departed the Kemondo Bay May 21st, 1996 en-route to Mwanza Port she never returned.
The vessel never made it to her destination. On that fateful day, she tragically disappeared from the surface of Lake Victoria.
Carrying more than 1,000 people and cargo, MV Bukoba overturned and sank in Lake Victoria, just half an hour before docking at Mwanza Port. Many of them drowned.
The tragic accident left an indelible mark not only to inhabitants of Lake Zone regions but also to all Tanzanians, leaving many others across the world shocked.
Concerned with the poor state of the maritime industry, the fifth-phase government embarked on massive reforms aimed at improving this key sub-transport sector.
This was done in line with implementation of the 2015-2020 election manifesto of Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) that among other things focused on coming up with strategic projects that would benefit the country and its people.
At a campaign rally at Kemondo Bay, CCM Presidential candidate Dr John Magufuli recalled the fateful incident and stated what his government has been doing to develop the country’s water transport His government has, over the past five years, executed a number of projects which have tremendously rejuvenated the marine industry.
For instance in 2018, the government signed contracts for construction of a new big ship and a slipway as well as renovation of vessels that currently ply on Lake Victoria in projects that aimed at making Mwanza, a regional trade and transportation hub.
The projects worth 152.363bn/- included the construction of new passenger ship with capacity to accommodate 1,200 passengers and 400 tonnes of cargo at the cost of 88.764bn/-, rehabilitation of MV Victoria at the tune of 22.712bn/- and MV Butiama, which stopped operations since 2014, at the cost of 4.897bn/-.
The work has already been completed and it is now operating between Kagera and Mwanza regions.
In September, 2018, President John Magufuli also ordered for the construction of a new ferry that would ply the Ukerewe-Mwanza route. The new ferry replaces MV Nyerere, which capsized the same year.
Last month, MV Rubondo ferry was launched in Geita region to boost tourism activities in Rubondo Island, which is a unique and most attractive island in Lake Victoria.
The government has also constructed a number of ferries, patrol boats in lakes and sea as well as constructing berths, improving ports and providing education to the public on the proper utilisation of resources.
In 2018, the government announced the construction of a new ship with the capacity to carry 600 passengers and 200 tonnes of cargo on the eastern side of Lake Tanganyika, supplementing duties carried out by the oldest MV Liemba that has also been renovated by the government.
MV Liemba was built in 1913 in Germany, and was one of three vessels the German Empire used to control Lake Tanganyika during the early part of the First World War.
The government through the Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) has constructed three modern vessels that will operate in Lake Nyasa.
The newly-constructed vessels were MV Mbeya II, with the capacity of carrying 200 passengers and 200 tonnes of cargo. Others are MV Njombe and MV Ruvuma each costing 5.5bn/- and were completed in July 2017.
MV Ruvuma and MV Njombe have the capacity to carry 1000 tonnes of cargo each.
The coming of the vessels is expected to open up more economic and business opportunities for the three regions of Mbeya, Njombe and Ruvuma as well as neighbouring countries of Mozambique and Zambia.
The ships will also open up the ‘Mtwara Development Corridor’ and enable Mtwara and Mbamba Bay ports to serve the market in Malawi and reduce the competitiveness of Mozambique Ports to Dar es Salaam Port.
The ongoing efforts by the government to improve marine transport have been commended by analysts, saying the move will unlock business opportunities and eventually improve people’s lives.
Speaking to the ‘Daily News’, Assistant Lecturer at the Mzumbe University in Morogoro Mr Jerlum Kilumile said the improvements were done at the right time as there was a huge demand for the service.
“The upgrading of the marine sector will also boost national income because more business opportunities are going to be unveiled,” he said.
Adding, he said; “I have been privileged to visit Kigoma Region where there is an ongoing project of constructing a huge port that would facilitate easy movement of people and their goods to the region and the neighbouring countries such as Burundi and DR Congo.”