Return of famed MV Uhuru raises hope for regional trade

MV Uhuru docked at the Kisumu port. The port is being renovated at a cost of Sh3 billion. [Collins Oduor, Standard]
One of East Africa’s biggest cargo ships - Kenya’s MV Uhuru - has resumed operations nearly 15 years after it was grounded ahead of the opening of the Kisumu port.

President Uhuru Kenyatta was on Tuesday afternoon at hand to receive the giant vessel at the Kisumu port on its return journey from Uganda’s Port Bell.

The 1,400 tonnes wagon ferry arrived in Kisumu with 22 empty oil tanks to be refilled at the new Kenya Pipeline oil jetty.

The return of MV Uhuru to the waters of Lake Victoria raises hope for the revival of trade ties between Kenya and other regional countries that are keen to reap from the revamped Kisumu port.

On Tuesday, President Uhuru during a surprise visit inspected the progress of expansion works at the port.

Concerns are mounting over delays in the dredging of the port and failure to contain the disruptive water hyacinth on the lake.

The port has been undergoing renovation and was set for reopening in August.

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However, the plan was cancelled a day to the event after what insiders said was due to incomplete renovation works at the facility.

A multi- million-shilling dredging machine acquired from a Chinese company in Uganda early this year is lying idle at the port.

Before its grounding, MV Uhuru, which is owned by Kenya Railways, used to ply the Port Bell, Kampala, Jinja, Mwanza, Musoma and Kisumu routes. During its heydays, the vessel used to rake in as much as  Sh2 million for every round trip to Mwanza in Tanzania and Port  Bell in Uganda.

Immediate former Kisumu port manager Mwalimu Disi will oversee the running of MV Uhuru.

“It is true I have been appointed as the MV Uhuru manager with effect from last month,’’ he told The Standard in an interview.

He will work closely with 23 technical staff in running the vessel’s day-to-day operations.

They include captains, naval engineers and other crew members. Mr Disi was redeployed from the Ministry of Transport in Nairobi. Kenya Navy and Kenya Railways Corporation engineers jointly carried out repairs on the vessel.

The return of the vessel is expected to boost Kenya Pipeline Company’s regional business by raising fuel exports from its Sh1.7 billion oil jetty.

The lakeside jetty is expected to supply petroleum products to the neighbouring Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, up to the Eastern Congo and parts of Tanzania.

Currently, there is massive work going on to repair the railway lane linking Kisumu port to the jetty.

“We have are already in business. We can ply the routes anytime,” said Mr Disi.

Kisumu Deputy Governor Dr Mathews Owili said the return of MV Uhuru would boost the regional economy, through employment opportunities and faster movement of cargo.

Gradual repair works on the vessel began in 2009, three years after it was withdrawn from active water business.

It used to make about Sh17 million per month at the height of its operations, and it would cost Sh20 million.

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