So it’s 24th, November, again. Exactly one year since what could easily pass as the darkest moment in Uganda’s modern maritime history happened before our eyes. MV Templar, a boat that was carrying over 100 people set off at Mutima Beach, in Mukono District for K-Palm Beach only to capsize along the way, killing over 30 people on Lake Victoria.
You can read that again. Over 30 people lost their lives in the waters of Lake Victoria on this day, one year ago. Do you still remember where the news found you?
It started as a rumour on social media with many writing it off as another one of the very many ‘fake news’ poststhat are traded on social media platforms until the main stream media, particularly NBS Television and Nile Post confirmed the news at around 9pm, sending the country into several weeks of agony and mourning.
I still remember the husky voice of the then NBS Television senior journalist, Joseph Sabiti confirming the news live on television while on a speed boat as he tried to find his way to Mutima beach where some of the bodies that were retrieved were being paraded before the transfer to Mulago for postmortem. I personally could not help putting myself in the victims shoes. How agonizing were their last moments? What was going through their minds at the moment? Did they think about the agony that their families were going to face?
Operations by the Uganda Police Marine Unit and the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) Marines ensued while being flanked by efforts from the locals in the area. At the end of the five day rescue and retrieve mission, they managed to recover 32 bodies and rescued 26 people notably among those that were rescued was Buganda’s Prince David Wasajja, tycoon Fredrick Kiyimba, musician Iryn Namubiru among others.
It took the deployment of MV Kalangala, one of the biggest water vessels on Ugandan water, to retrieve the wreckage of MV Templar on the fifth day of the operation.
The nation was horrified. Almost, of not all the boat cruise parties that were lined up for the festivities, were canceled by the organizers. After one year, one could wonder how the families who lost their loved one’s are holding up. How much damage did this do to them as a family?
Some of the families, like that of Bosco Owecho, a local fisherman who lost his life while attempting to rescue the victims, have never recovered. Recently, his mother told local press that she is down with high blood pressure since her son’s death. Several accounts from various survivors that talked to Nile Post point in the same direction. Some swear never to step on a water vessel again.
Three months ago, the Nile Post team visited Mutima Beach and works were ongoing to renovate the facility which now has a notice that “revelers using the lake do so at their own risk,” even though children could be seen at the site, bathing and swimming in the water close to the shore.
The ill-fated boat
The wreckage of MV Templar now sits abandoned on the shores of Lake Victoria. Broken bottles of beer and opened packets of condoms are some of the things that eye can’t miss. What remains of the captain’s cockpit, is now a deserted place occupied by cobwebs and lizards.
The number of revelers who boarded the fateful boat remains unclear to this day. Some of the survivors say that initially, only 90 people were registered for the cruise but the number had ballooned to 120 at the time of departure. Some of the survivors left the scene of the tragedy after the rescue and have never came out about the issue.
Following the incident, government issued an order that all boats and other vessels on Uganda’s waters must be registered.
Government officials privy to the MV Templar debacle said that the ill fated MV Templar was in bad condition and had been grounded for over three months before its final journey. Other sources claim that the boat was flagged down not to make the journey but the owners refused to heed the call.
Working hand in hand with the Ministry of Works, the Police Marine Unit said that they would inspect all boats and vessels to check their sea worthiness. Registration started in February this year.