Collision between Kabarega and Kaawa

Story filed May 9, 2005 Staff story

It's a lucky escape for crew as ship sinks in lake

A captain of a Ugandan ship and his crew escaped death after their ship collided with another on Lake Victoria and sank a few hours later.

The Mv Kabarega , which was ferrying wheat from Mwanza in Tanzania to Port Bell in Uganda, collided with Mv Kaawa near Sese Island at about 3.30am yesterday. (May 8, 2005)

All 20 men on board were rescued and taken to the other ship before Mv Kabarega sank at 1pm. Some had suffered minor injuries.

Captain Gerald Katumwa told The Standard by phone that the ship's hull was damaged, making it impossible to pump out the water seeping into the vessel.

"It was a terrifying moment. We did not know how it happened but heard a bang. We thank God for our survival," he said.

Katumwa said some of the crew members of the Mv Kaawa sustained minor injuries and that the ship was slightly damaged.

Katumwa, who was still at the scene of accident, said: "The damage was massive due to the impact. There was no way we could sail ashore."

The ill-fated ship was at Kisumu Pier two weeks ago to collect oil and dry cargo. It takes 12 hours to sail from Kisumu to Sese Island, which neighbours Roseberry and Baga islands on the Ugandan side of the lake.

The ship had a capacity of 1,200 tonnes and was 100 metres long and 18 metres wide.

The other vessel, MV Kaawa , with a similar capacity, was carrying empty tank wagons and was destined for Mwanza.

The accident leaves the Ugandan Railways Corporation with only one Ship, Mv Pamba .

Some marine experts asked whether the Ugandan vessels had the global positioning system (GPS) that warns the captain of the approaching ship to avoid accidents.

The experts said Kenyan and Ugandan governments were yet to implement the international standards for establishing a system for safe management and operation for vessels and for pollution prevention in the lake.

In Mombasa, maritime experts said the collision could have been a result of an error in navigation or stalled engines.

Poor visibility due to bad weather or faulty radar could also have led to the rare collision.

A director of the Kenya Maritime Authority and Kenya's immediate former Merchant Shipping Superintendent, Captain John Martin Odhach, said rains or fog could interfere with ship navigation.

However, he said, human error or weather elements were the main causes of ship accidents around the world and this could not be ruled out in the Lake Victoria collision.

Collision of ships has been rare in Kenya due to low traffic compared to busy shipping lines like the Philippines, the English Channel and Japan, said Odhach.

He recalled that a major collision occurred at the Mombasa port in 1974 involving Mv Ujamaa, which was being navigated from berth number 14 at Kilindini.

Other experts blamed the accident on lack of navigation aid.

They said the existing navigational chart for the lake was done way back in 1901 and was in a state of disrepair.

They noted that the navigational chart, which is the roadmap for ships on the lake, has not been updated despite the ecology having changed over the years.

Similar facilities in the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) jurisdiction in Mombasa have been updraged several times to ensure safety of ships.