Travellers on Lake Victoria in western Kenya have a reason to smile following the launch of three commercial boats in Kisumu city.
The three boats operated by Mbita Ferry Services Ltd are a bold attempt at reviving the Lake Victoria passenger transport system that collapsed two decades ago by the grounding of the government-run MV Uhuru.
Over the last two decades, passenger transport in the second largest fresh water lake in the world has stagnated, with no commercial ferries offering passenger services between the various islands along the Kenyan side of the lake.
Pollution, crumbling port infrastructure and a resilient water hyacinth have all contributed to reducing the port’s capacity making it difficult to operate commercial vessels on the lake.
According to Mr Dedan Wakiaga, the managing director of Mbita Ferry Services Ltd, the government has been slow in facilitating the reconstruction of the port of Kisumu forcing private developers to use their own money to rehabilitate the infrastructure.
“Despite the fact that we pay operating fees to Kenya Railways, they are yet to dredge the port which has accumulated silt over the years making it impossible for large vessels to dock,” he said.
“When we couldn’t wait any longer we decided to do part of the dredging ourselves to enable us operate the three new boats that we have today.”
The three vessels have a combined capacity of 400 passengers and are equipped with modern on-board entertainment systems and come installed with CCTV equipment to ensure security in the recent wake of terrorism attacks.
“The boats will offer a faster and more affordable transport route in between Kisumu, Usoma, Mbita, Kendu Bay and Homa Bay Islands,” states Mr Wakiaga.
“For example it currently takes you two hours to move by road from Kisumu to Lwanda Kotieno then another 45 minutes by boat from Lwanda Kotieno to Mbita. The new vessels we have brought in today will reduce this time to one hour direct from Kisumu to Mbita Island.”
In addition to this, the ships will offer an opportunity to develop tourism on the Lake Victorian tourism circuit and the small islands around the lake.
“One of the boats is equipped with a floating restaurant with a seated capacity of 80 passengers and this is meant to provide an island-hopping tourism package which is part of the Lake Victorian tourism circuit,” explains Mr Wakiaga.
Mr Wakiaga however stated that the government still needs to do more work on the port of Kisumu to enable more investors to put in more money on commercial passenger and cargo transport.
“Kenya Railways is very slow to develop the ports and we hope that the situation shall change if the Kenya Ports Authority takes charge of the inland water ways.”