Friday, March 28, 2014

DR Congo / Uganda - " Three boats down from the candy, much to much to lose "

The BBC reports

Uganda Lake Albert boat disaster 'killed 251 refugees'

                                    Ugandan police divers helped in the search for survivors, and bodies

More than 250 people died in last Saturday's boat capsize on Lake Albert between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, a minister has said.
This is a sharp increase on the initial death toll, partly a result of the vessel carrying many more passengers than the official capacity of 80.
The boat was taking Congolese refugees in Uganda back to their home country.
These were refugees from the Kyangwali refugee  camp. These deaths can be attributed to crap boats, crap regulation and crap oversight by both the UN, DR Congo and Uganda but lets not forget that these people were refugees due to the Ugandan ADF rebels.  
Boat accidents are common in both countries because of poor safety standards and overloading.

That is no reason to accept the deaths. Clearly there has been a failure by both Uganda and the DR Congo authorities as well as by MONUSCO who have run Facebook puff pieces on how they have a maritime patrol division.   

Some Questions,
- Was the boat fit for purpose ? ie. Could it operate on Lake Albert safely under all the conditions it was foreseeable it would face.
- Was the boat in a seaworthy condition and was it operating under a safe ship management plan? An 80 passenger limit would suggest it was.
- What was the history of the boat ? In the Pacific Islands we have similar tragedies usually the vessels in question have reached the end of their economic life in either NZ or Australia and are dumped on the Pacific Islands where they sink and kill.
Congolese authorities have declared three days of national mourning for the victims of last Saturday's disaster - among whom were many children.
On Tuesday they made up more than half of the then death toll of 107. About 300 people are now thought to have been aboard.

A boat that is surveyed for 80 passengers will under the best circumstances have life boat, life jackets etc. for 80 people I very much doubt that this was the case but even if it was with 300 people on board this was a foreseeable disaster and official heads should role.
"It is with deep sorrow that we confirm to the nation the death of 251 of our compatriots who had boarded the boat from the Ugandan side of Lake Albert," said Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende Omalanga, adding that "we have managed to have something like 50 people who have escaped."

Don't expect many women and children to be among those who survived.
Congolese authorities are helping to support survivors, while arranging funerals for the dead, he said.
Saturday's disaster happened just days after DR Congo launched a campaign to enforce the wearing of life jackets on all boats on its many waterways.

It is common for boats in both countries to have too few, if any, life jackets on board.

I am not saying that compulsory wearing of life jackets is a bad idea but it is a second class solution. What is needed is quite probably a new class of vessel designed for the Great Lakes region. The craft should be simple and the fittings should float you don't need GPS, flash electronics ... etc. Seaworthy simple modern ferries that are fit for purpose would fit the bill. 
The actual  " bill " for the boats should be a priority aid project given the reliance on maritime transport of the region but why not do it smart. Get a good design and licence it to local manufactures with a naval architect overseeing the builds, make the financing through a suspensory loan arrangement  with real incentives to operators running vessels that are maintained well and operate within survey limits. By incentives I mean up to at least an 80% right off of the loan. Carrots are more effective than sticks.
'Deeply shocked'
On Monday, the UN high commissioner for refugees Antonio Guterres said he was deeply shocked by the disaster.

Yes... you were responsible Mr Guterres for those people and you failed. Your job was to get them home safely. I hope you have offered your resignation because your cavalier attitude to the repatriation of these people is yet another cause of this disaster. 
"My thoughts are with those who have lost dear ones, and the survivors,"he said in a statement.
"I am grateful to the government and other actors who have mounted a rescue-and-recovery operation and are assisting the survivors.''
The boat was one of two which left on Saturday from Uganda's Hoima district on the eastern side of the lake, which lies on the border with DR Congo.
The boats were carrying refugees who had been living at a camp in Uganda, and had decided to return to eastern DR Congo of their own accord, the UNHCR said.

The UNHCR had a responsibility to get them home. This was a UN failure let's not fail the people of the Eastern DR Congo again.

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