By Nasuuna Varstine
Kampala: The Ministry of Works has announced that Marine Rescue and Search Centres have been set up to respond emergencies that will occur to vessels that sail across Lake Victoria and other water bodies in Uganda.
The minister for works and transport Eng. Monica Azuba Ntege revealed on Thursday that the Ministry opened the marine search and rescue centres to improve emergency response measures in case of accidents on Uganda’s waters. The eight rescue centres will be located in areas of Panyimur, Zengede, Kiyindi, Masese, Majanji, Ntoroko, Bugoto and Bukasa Island. The minister also revealed that other landing sites are being surveyed for possibilities of setting up there more rescue centres. Azuba disclosed this while presenting a report on the ministry’s performance alongside the National Resistance Movement (NRM) manifesto and the 2016-2021 targets. Land for creation of the rescue centers at the first four prospective sites has already been secured.
Since 2016, the ministry has investigated six marine accidents on lakes Victoria and Albert, including the November 24, 2018 sinking of MV Templar. The boat, carrying about 120 revellers, sunk a few meters away from Mutima beach in Mukono district; at least 29 people died in the accident, including the owner of the boat businessman Templar Bisasse and his wife inclusive. Preliminary investigations found out that the boat was overloaded, unregistered, unlicensed, in a dangerous mechanical condition and uninsured, plus many of the passengers did not have life jackets at the time of the accident.
Uganda’s water transport infrastructure has largely not been well regulated and developed, although new measures are being undertaken to improve marine transport. Safety regulations on the operations of open boats have not strictly enforced measures such as wearing life jackets, which has made travelling on waters a perilous journey. According to the 2013 annual crime report, cases of drowning in Uganda’s water bodies including rivers and lakes rose by 27% in 2013.Reported deaths grew from 28 cases in 2012 to 47 in 2013, rescue emergencies also rose from 56 cases to 81 over the same period of time. In January, the ministry conducted verification exercises for all operators of vessels as part of measures to ensure that water transport is safe. Last year the president of Uganda ordered for the registration of all boats operating on Uganda’s lakes, in the wake of a tragic November MV Templar accident. He also ordered the electronic registration and monitoring of all the boats so that authorities can know who is where on the lake and why.