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Lake Victoria ferries

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Title: Lake Victoria ferries  
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Subject: MV Bukoba, Lake Victoria, Transport in Uganda, Transport in Tanzania, Ferries of Tanzania
Collection: Ferries of Kenya, Ferries of Tanzania, Lake Victoria, Transport in Uganda
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Lake Victoria ferries

Lake Victoria ferries are motor ships (earlier examples were steamboats) carrying freight and passengers among Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya on Lake Victoria. The main ports on the lake are Kisumu, Mwanza, Bukoba, Entebbe, Port Bell, and Jinja.

By the mid-20th Century, the East African Railways and Harbours Corporation operated regular sailings clockwise around the lake from Kisumu, using rail ferries that carried rail wagons loaded directly from rail tracks extended on the jetties at Kisumu, Port Bell, and Mwanza. The rail network linked to the Indian Ocean ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam which allowed countries of the African interior such as Uganda and Rwanda to transport freight to and from world markets. Typical journey times were 13 hours between Port Bell in Uganda and Kisumu in Kenya, and 19 hours between Port Bell and Mwanza in Tanzania.

After 2006, most railway wagon ferry services ceased operating, and the rail tracks at the jetties saw little use. In 2012, Rift Valley Railways restarted operation of the rail wagon ferry service between Port Bell and Mwanza using the refurbished MV Kaawa.

As of April 2013, Tanzania Railways' Central Line is operating freight and passenger rail services from Mwanza to Tabora, Dodoma, and Dar es Salaam while Rift Valley Railways operates rail freight services only from Kampala to Mombasa. The rail line from Kisumu is not operating.

Other passenger and cargo ferries continue to operate on Lake Victoria.


  • Uganda Railway steamers 1
  • East African Railways and Harbours motor vessels 2
  • Recent decades 3
    • Tanzania Railways and MV Bukoba sinking 1996 3.1
    • Uganda Railways and MV Kabalega sinking 2005 3.2
    • MV Nyamageni capsizing 2006 3.3
    • Proposed new service 2010 3.4
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Uganda Railway steamers

The original ships serving the Uganda Railway were built in the United Kingdom as "knock down" ships; that is, they were bolted together, all the parts marked with numbers, disassembled into thousands of parts, transported in kit form by sea to Mombasa and by rail to Kisumu, and reassembled.

SS William Mackinnon was built for the Imperial British East Africa Company in 1890 by Bow, McLachlan and Company at Paisley in Scotland but not launched at Kisumu until 1900.[1] In the First World War, she was armed as a gunboat.[1] In 1929, she was withdrawn from service, taken into deep water, and scuttled.[1]

The sister ships SS Winifred and SS Sybil were built by Bow, McLachlan & Co in 1901.[2][3] Winifred was launched on the lake in 1902[2] followed by Sybil in 1903.[3] In the First World War East African Campaign, they were armed as gunboats.[2][3] In 1914, Sybil was beached after striking a rock but she was refloated in 1915 and refitted and returned to service in 1916.[3] In 1924, Sybil was converted into a lighter. Winifred was purposely sunk in 1936 to form a breakwater off Luamba Island.[2] Her remains were scrapped in 1954.[2] In the 1950s, Sybil sank at her moorings but she was raised, restored as a passenger and cargo vessel, and in 1956 re-entered service.[3] In 1967, Sybil was purposely sunk at Kisumu to form a breakwater.[3]

SS Clement Hill was built by Bow, McLachlan & Co in 1905.[4] She served on the lake from 1907 to 1935.[4] In 1936 she was purposely sunk at Bukakata to form a breakwater.[4]

SS Nyanza is a cargo steamer built by Bow, McLachlan & Co in 1907.[5] She was reported to be laid up as of 2007.[6]

SS Kavirondo is a tugboat built by Bow, McLachlan & Co in 1912 and launched at Kisumu in 1913.[7] During the First World War, she served as a gunboat.[7] In about 1984, she was laid up at Kisumu and later was used as an accommodation vessel.[7] She later sank alongside, but in 2005 was raised.[7] Her purchasers intended to lengthen and re-engine her for use as a tanker.[7]

The sister ships SS Rusinga and SS Usoga were built by Bow, McLachlan & Co in 1913 and launched on the lake in 1914 and 1915, respectively.[8][9] They were troop ships during the First World War East African Campaign[8][9][10] and passed into civilian service after the Armistice. EAR&H withdrew Rusinga for scrap in 1966,[11] but she passed into private ownership and in 2005 was still in service.[12] Usoga was laid up in 1975, sank at her moorings at Kisumu in the 1990s, and as of 2006 her remains were still there.[9]

SS Buganda and SS Buvuma were tugboats built by Bow, McLachlan & Co in 1925.[13][14] In the 1980s, Buvuma was laid up and sank at her jetty.[14]

East African Railways and Harbours motor vessels

MV Uhuru at Kisumu Docks.

RMS Victoria was built in 1959 by Yarrow Shipbuilders at Scotstoun[15] and reassembled for the East African Railways and Harbours Corporation (EAR&H) ship at Kisumu[16] in 1961.[15][17] When the ship was commissioned, Queen Elizabeth II granted her the "Royal Mail Ship" designation: the only EAR&H ship to receive this distinction.[16] However, since Kenya's independence from the UK, she has operated as MV Victoria.[16]

The train ferries MV Umoja and MV Uhuru are sister ships built by Yarrow in 1965.[18][19] Kenya operated Uhuru, but she has been suspended from service since 2007.[20]

In 1977 EARH was dissolved and its assets divided between Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Uhuru was transferred to the new Kenya Railways Corporation and Umoja and Victoria to the new Tanzania Railways Corporation.

Recent decades

Tanzania Railways and MV Bukoba sinking 1996

TRC's Marine Division introduced the ferry MV Bukoba in about 1979[21] and the passenger and cargo ship MV Serengeti in 1988.[22]

On 21 May 1996, Bukoba sank 30 nautical miles (56 km) off Mwanza.[21] She was carrying many more passengers than she was certificated for, and at least 800 people were killed.[21]

In 1997, the Marine Division became a separate company, the Marine Services Company Limited, whose fleet includes Serengeti, Umoja, and Victoria.[23]

Uganda Railways and MV Kabalega sinking 2005

MV Kaawa

Uganda Railways Corporation operated three train ferries on Lake Victoria: MV Kabalega, MV Kaawa and MV Pemba.

In the early hours of 8 May 2005, Kabalega and Kaawa collided[24] almost head-on. Kaawa damaged her bow and Kabalega suffered damage to her bow and flooding in two of her buoyancy tanks.[25] Kaawa managed to return to port, but a few hours after the collision, Kabalega sank about 8 nautical miles (15 km) southeast of the Ssese Islands.[24] After the collision Pemba was suspended from service and no Ugandan ferries now remain in operation.

In May 2008, the Daily Monitor stated that it expected the Ugandan government to announce in that year's budget speech a government allocation of 14 billion Ugandan Shillings to buy a new train ferry to replace Kabalega.[26] However, in September 2009, the Uganda Radio Network said the Ugandan government was unlikely to replace Kabalega soon.[27] Instead, the Minister of Works proposed to improve port facilities at Jinja and Port Bell and let private operators run railway car floats with greater capacity than the ferries.[27] The minister stated that Kaawa and Pemba would be reconditioned and returned to service and that private businesses had expressed an interest in raising Kabalega and restoring her to use as a private concession.[27] In October 2009, the Ugandan government reiterated that it would recondition the Pemba and Kaawa and return them to service in 2010 and 2011 respectively.[28]

MV Nyamageni capsizing 2006

On 28 April 2006, MV Nyamageni capsized. She was a cargo and passenger ferry owned by the Dynamic Cotton Ginnery of Mwanza in Tanzania. She was carrying more than forty passengers, 28 of whom were feared dead.[29]

Proposed new service 2010

In 2010, a new international passenger ferry service was to be launched. A U.S. based company, Earthwise Ventures, announced that it would bring a fleet of fast ferries to Lake Victoria to connect major ports on the lake.[30]


  1. ^ a b c Cameron, Stuart; Biddulph, Stuart; Asprey, David. "SS William Mackinnon". Clyde-built Database. Retrieved 2011-05-22. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Cameron, Stuart; Asprey, David; Robinson, George. "SS Winifred". Clyde-built Database. Retrieved 2011-05-22. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Cameron, Stuart; Asprey, David. "SS Sybil". Clyde-built Database. Retrieved 2011-05-21. 
  4. ^ a b c Cameron, Stuart; Asprey, David. "SS Clement Hill". Clyde-built Database. Retrieved 2011-05-21. 
  5. ^ Cameron, Stuart; Asprey, David. "SS Nyanza". Clyde-built Database. Retrieved 2011-05-22. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b c d e Cameron, Stuart; Asprey, David. "SS Kavirondo". Clyde-built Database. Retrieved 2011-05-22. 
  8. ^ a b Cameron, Stuart; Asprey, David. "SS Rusinga". Clyde-built Database. Retrieved 2011-05-22. 
  9. ^ a b c Cameron, Stuart; Asprey, David. "SS Usoga". Clyde-built Database. Retrieved 2011-05-21. 
  10. ^ "The East African Maxim Gun Company 1915-16". Harry's Africa. The soldier's burden. Retrieved 2011-05-17. 
  11. ^ "Gazette Notice No 3265; East Africa Railways & Harbours; Amendments to Tariff Book No 3". Kenya Gazette. LXVIII. 1966-08-30. Retrieved 2011-05-18. 
  12. ^ Kersi, Rustomji. "17 Usoga and Rusinga". Jambo Paulo... Jambo Mykol... Kersi Rustomji. Retrieved 2011-05-22. 
  13. ^ Cameron, Stuart; Asprey, David; Allan. "SS Buganda". Clyde-built Database. Retrieved 2011-05-22. 
  14. ^ a b Cameron, Stuart; Asprey, David; Allan, Bruce. "SS Buvuma". Clyde-built Database. Retrieved 2011-05-22. 
  15. ^ a b Cameron, Stuart; Strathdee, Paul. "Victoria". Clyde-built Database. Retrieved 2011-05-22. 
  16. ^ a b c McCrow, Malcolm. "Marine Services". East African Railways and Harbours. Retrieved 17 May 2011. 
  17. ^ von Kienlin, Markus (2007-12-17). "RMS Victoria". Katalog. Deutsche Gesellschaft für Eisenbahngeschichte. Retrieved 2011-05-18. 
  18. ^ Cameron, Stuart (2004). "Umoja". Clyde-built Database. Retrieved 2011-05-17. 
  19. ^ Cameron, Stuart (2004). "Uhuru". Clyde-built Database. Retrieved 2011-05-17. 
  20. ^ "Counting Losses".  
  21. ^ a b c Arai Shin-Ichi (1996-05-30). "Lake Victoria tragedy, Tanzania in May 21". Arai's Zanzibar, Tanzania Page. Arai Shin-Ichi. Retrieved 2011-06-26. 
  22. ^ "MV. Serengeti". Vessels.  
  23. ^ "Home". Marine Services Company Limited. Marine Services Company Limited. Retrieved 2011-06-26. 
  24. ^ a b "NLRI called out to assist at Uganda Railways ferry accident". Lake Rescue East Africa. The National Lake Rescue Institute (NLRI). 
  25. ^ Vision reporters (2005-05-09). Crewman narrates ordeal"Kabalega"MV .  
  26. ^ Biryabarema, Elias (2008-05-30). "Uganda: Gov't Set to Replace Sunken MV Kabalega".  
  27. ^ a b c "Sunken MV Kabalega Ship May not be Replaced Soon Says Government". Uganda Radio Network. 2008-05-30. Retrieved 2011-05-24. 
  28. ^ "Uganda: Government to Repair Grounded Ships".  
  29. ^ "28 feared dead after ferry capsizes in Lake Victoria".  
  30. ^ Heim, Kristi (2009-08-17). "Everett man building fleet of ferries for Africa's Lake Victoria".  

External links

  • Malcolm McCrow's EAR&H history site
  • Kamanga Ferry - Lake Victoria Ferries
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