The additional ferry earmarked for the Entebbe-Kalangala route has started test runs.
Nation Oil Distributors Limited (NODL) will operate the new ferry, currently docked at Port Bell.
The new ferry was built and completed mid- this year and is ready for operations, according to NODL, which currently operates MV Kalangala on behalf of the Ministry of Works and Transport.
Sadala Musoke, the Chief Executive Officer NODL, says the new ferry dubbed MV NODL will complement MV Kalangala to meet the increasing demand due to the growth in passenger numbers over the years particularly during the festive season.
Musoke says NODL’s contract with the Works Ministry requires it to among others; provide an alternative water vessel when MV Kalangala is away for routine maintenance, in times of accidents or when there is an overwhelming number of travellers.
“This new ferry was long overdue because MV Kalangala has to undergo mandatory survey beginning of December because it has operated with the same gearbox since 2005.
The gearbox must be replaced and this will take two weeks. So we must get this new ferry on the water soon,” Musoke said.
In the absence of MV Kalangala, travellers and business people who ply the route and want to use their vehicles resort to MV Ssese and MV Pearl ferries at Bukakata in Masaka.
However, this increases the cost for travellers from Entebbe to Masaka before connecting to Kalangala. They need about Shillings 120,000 on a single trip of over 8 hours.
He explained further that the new ferry is also important in absorbing the high number of travellers during the festive season.
With the capacity to carry 100 passengers, 165 tons of cargo, and 4 buses, MV Kalangala is one of the major vessels plying from the mainland in Entebbe to Kalangala.
It operates one return trip between Entebbe and Kalangala, departing Entebbe daily at 2 pm and returning the next day at 11 am.
However, Musoke says that the new ferry, yet to get its route chart approved by the works ministry and will only carry passengers.
“MV NODL will carry 200 passengers. It will not load cargo or vehicles because MV Kalangala is there and these items occupy space that could carry over 100 passengers, “Musoke told URN.
He said carrying only passengers is more profitable because “on MV Kalangala we charge each vehicle shillings 50,000 and that’s about shillings 500,000 for ten cars per trip and yet this space can carry 150 passengers who could fetch us Shillings 4 million.”
In any case, he says passengers will provide business opportunities to public and private transport service providers in Kalangala resulting in improved livelihoods for residents and business people who are not even involved in tourism.
Musoke says that much as passengers are excited about the new ferry, they should wait for the proposed transport fares.
“We are still negotiating with the government on the fares. It would be great if the government subsidizes the fares or says the ferry will be free,” he said. It is estimated that water vessels MV Ssese, MV Pearl that ply Masaka-Kalangala route and MV Kalangala spend between Shillings 2-5 million on fuel per trip to or from Kalangala.
He is optimistic that the new ferry will start operations by mid-December.
He hopes that MV NODL will expand the current network by picking passengers from Port Bell in Kampala, Nakiwogo in Entebbe to boost tourism along Kampala-Entebbe and Kalangala-Entebbe routes.
The private water vessel has been in the pipeline since 2018.
It was initially expected to commence operations in December 2018 to serve Kalangala’s outlying islands. All the major water vessels dock at Bugala Island. Kalangala comprises 84 islands.
However, Musoke says the plan has since changed, with the aim of increasing trips along Kampala-Entebbe and Kalangala-Entebbe routes.
Passengers are excited about the new ferry, saying it will help decongest MV Kalangala and carry people who will miss space on the old ferry.
Godfrey Mayinja, a resident of Manyago in Entebbe wants the new ferry to charge under Shillings 40,000 per trip.
Mayinja said the new ferry will relieve frequent travellers to and from Kalangala because they will have another cheaper option other than using private speed boats.
Mayinja adds that passengers from Kampala will no longer have to bear with the heavy traffic jams along the Kampala-Entebbe highway to board ferries or boats at Nakiwogo in Entebbe.
Currently, MV Natalie and Vanessa that ply the same route charge Shillings 35,000 for a single trip to Kalangala and Shillings 70,000 for a return journey during the week.
The vessels also charge Shillings 45,000 for a one-way ticket and Shillings 85,000 for a return journey on weekends.
The vessels take an average of one hour and half hours on water because they are speedboats.
Meanwhile, local boats charge Shillings 25,000 per trip. The journey is about three and a half hours.