Kenya faces shortage of seafarers to navigate the fish and ships business of Lake Victoria
Posted Sunday, June 24 2012 at 14:50
It is 4pm on Friday evening and Captain Charles Mnanga pensively shifts his glance from the deck of MV Wankyo to his watch and back again.
On board the cargo ship, there is a din of activity as the crew frantically loads hundreds of barrels of cooking oil into the vessel.
Mnanga and his crew are set to sail for the port of Mwanza in Tanzania and they need to complete loading the vessel and ship out in the next two hours.
By 6pm, all activity at the port will cease and the vessel will be forced to remain there for another night. The delay will mean extra charges, something he is not prepared for.
Around the 340 feet-long cargo ship are two similar vessels and a tug boat hoisting two tankers that are all being loaded with a similar air of urgency.
“We only have until sunset after which we will have to dismiss the labourers and the port will be closed for the day so if this ship is not out we shall have to delay our cargo and hence more costs.” he says.
Mnanga says apart from the operating costs of loading and offloading the cargo, the rush to do this in the least time possible is due to the uneven depth of the port.
“Most of the ports in Lake Victoria such as this one have become filled with silt and large vessels like ours cannot dock because they will get stuck once they are loaded,” he explains.
The vessels are forced to scramble for the few deep berths available and this often causes conflict.
On the deck of a smaller vessel some 300 metres away watching activities at the port is Francis Nyaundi. Mr Nyaundi is the assistant marine engineer for MV Uvumbuzi, a research vessel owned by the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, Kemfri.
The vessel is the only one that plies the waters of Lake Victoria and is hired by research facilities and universities in the region at a fee of Sh10, 000 per day.
According to Mr Nyaundi, the port of Kisumu, like most ports in the region, is in dire need of dredging to promote marine transport in the region, especially by owners of big vessels.
“We go across the lake to different ports in all the three countries to collect data but over the last few years it has become increasingly difficult to dock in most of the ports,” he says .
Mr Nyaundi’s ship MV Uvumbizi needs a depth of about four to five metres for it to dock safely but the water level at the Kisumu pier has gone down to about 0.7 metres deep.
The situation is even worse in the smaller ports like Usenge, Homa Bay and Mbita where a lot of research is conducted both in the water and on the coastline but accessing these places has become impossible.
The ship is well equipped with the latest of research and data collection equipment and when fully stocked, can house 12 people comfortably for up to 20 days on the lake without docking.