Shipping & Logistics

Undeveloped landing sites hold back Lake Victoria transport

Tourists cruise Lake Victoria in a modern water vessel at Hippo Point in Kisumu. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI
Tourists cruise Lake Victoria in a modern water vessel at Hippo Point in Kisumu. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI 

Firms eyeing water transportation services on Lake Victoria may have to make do with undeveloped landing sites, which could eat into their starting costs.

It is a lesson starters like Globology have learnt the hard way, even though there are plenty of opportunities and great need for the infrastructure.

The firm recently launched ferry services from Asembo Bay (Kamito) to Homa Bay, in an effort to revive the collapsed Lake Victoria transport system.

But the excitement among locals did not match the reality on the ground  as it sought to navigate the Winam Gulf.

Globology general manager Seth Onyango said the vessel landing sites are wanting and need to be constructed for the viability of the water transport.

“During the launch the landing sites were a challenge, we had to suspend the operations. We are now improving on the landing sites in Asembo Bay and Homa Bay by building jetties,” said Mr Onyango.

Now the company has to dig deeper into its pocket to put up Sh 700million jetties at the landing site for the new route.

“For us it is a new route, we are still not sure we will meet our target to ferry at least 132 passengers per trip. It a matter of wait-and-see,” he said. 

The challenge is not exclusive to this firm.

Experts say inland water transport is viable, given the increasing road network. But challenges remain.

Kenya Maritime Authority branch Inspector Jeremiah Onyango said if properly developed, water transport could play a vital role in unlocking the economic potential, increasing competitiveness and integration of countries in East Africa. 

“During the Kenya Railway times, there were many vessels spending the night in Homa Bay and leaving for Kisumu the following morning, through Kendu Bay,”he said referring to the time the passenger trains worked in the region. 

“People used to leave their cars in Kendu Bay, board the steamer to Kisumu. They would do their business, get back in the streamer and drive home, in an effort to save fuel,” he added.

Today, inland water transport is little used in the Kenyan waters, despite the fact that it is an excellent way of opening up remote areas.

So far Mbita Ferry and Globology, are the two commercial shipping firms dominating the sector apart from the canoes at the Winam Gulf. 

Captain John Odhach, a lecturer at Marine Training Institute, Kisumu said water transport is the cheapest means of moving bulk goods that enables countries to reduce costs for bulk imports and exports.

“If you want to have the water transport viable you must have the landing points back in service,”said Capt Odhach.