Hundreds of families at Likoma and Chizumulu Islands on Lake Malawi breathed a collective sigh of relief after they finally reunited with their family members who had been stranded at the mainland since November 27, 2011.
Over 200 people destined for the two islands had been stranded at Nkhata Bay Jetty for about two weeks after their only main source of transport which is the MV Ilala ship broke down.
According to some passengers, owners of the ship, Malawi Shipping Company, failed to replace the broken spare parts, including a steering, because the company that manufactured it got disbanded.
The ship is reported to have been sailing on the waters of Lake Malawi, connecting the Malawi-Mozambique coasts, since early 1950.
“Since the UK Company that manufactured it got disbanded the owners have relied on modified spare parts posing a great danger to passengers,” said 42-year-old business lady Ivy Chapusa, who was one of the stranded passengers.
An engineer at the home of the ship, Malawi Shipping Company in Monkey Bay, corroborated Chapusa’s assertions but refused to give more details on the matter.
“Yes it is true most of the spare parts it has at the moment are modified ones because the company cannot find appropriate spares because the company that manufactured it no longer exists,” said the engineer who has worked for the company for over a decade.
Chapusa said they were supposed to depart Nkhata Bay Jetty for Likoma on November 27 but were surprised when they were told that the ship would not depart due to a technical problem.
“That was after we had already paid fares and most of us had very little remaining with us,” she said, adding, “So we resorted to sleeping outside the Jetty warehouse while those who had money slept in rest houses.”
She said as days went by even those who had been sleeping in the rest houses also joined them as they could not sustain themselves paying for the rest houses and lodges.
The financially, psychologically and physically exhausted passengers endured mosquito bites, heavy rains and ridicule. They could not afford to buy food and mango became their main food.
Most of the stranded passengers were also traders and they have complained of using up their capital due to the unplanned over-stay on the mainland.
However, the stranded islanders despite reuniting with their families have appealed to government to ensure that it looks into the problem as soon as possible before the residents of the two islands are completely disconnected from the mainland.
“We still feel insecure, this ship is not in good shape and it is high time government did something before something big happen,” she concluded.
People of Likoma and Chizumulu Islands depend on MV Ilala for their transportation to the mainland. The ship has a capacity of about 365 passengers with 100 tones of cargo. Every week it travels an estimated distance of over 1000 kms.
The ship has been breaking several times and engineers have always struggled to find proper spares to rectify the problem. Its major maintenance was around the 1990s when it was reengined.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :