(eTN) – Ugandan media reports that some rowdy scenes had occurred at the new MV Pearl ferry, officially launched only days earlier by the Minister for Works and Transport, when an the ferry was damaged after striking submerge rocks on attempted landing and required repairs.
Operating the service between the main island of the Ssese Islands group, Buggala, to the mainland at Bukakata near Masaka, the new ferry reportedly failed to run the last scheduled crossing due at the end of the day on Saturday, prompting waiting passengers to vehemently protest and, according to one report, waylay the ferry staff, when they tried to return to their base at dusk. Police had to be deployed to restore order but those attempting to return to the mainland found themselves stuck on the island, having to find accommodation for the night and spend extra money.
The ferry then resumed services later on Sunday to allow a maintenance team to complete their task, but observers have voiced concerns that the substantially larger ferry, compared to the previously used type, may have to use different operating methods when landing or leaving to avoid hitting submerged rocks, which were too deep for the old ferry, but pose a threat to MV Pearl due to the substantially larger displacement.
A crossing previously took over an hour and is now reduced to 20 minutes, with perhaps some added time now set aside for a slower final approach to avoid rocks and its capacity has been upped to 20 vehicles.
Tourism for the Ssese Islands and in particular Buggala is expected to get a significant boost from the larger ferry, making it easier and faster to cross the waters, to then either stay on the main island, or use smaller lake boats to reach other islands where the ferry cannot dock and to enjoy the hospitality of a number of small locally owned beach side resorts. Long off the beaten track, the Ssese Islands are thought to have a significant potential for the development of both domestic tourism from within Uganda and also for foreign visitors, who have started to visit in greater numbers to enjoy the removed locations, the good fishing and the local food and hospitality at small resorts.