The voluntary group says it rescues over 30 people from the lake and retrieves about 20 bodies every month. The biggest challenge the group faces is a lack of protective gear.
Lake Bunyonyi remains a serious threat, with an estimated death rate of over 40 people each year.
Despite the risk the lake poses, locals living along the lake shores still use substandard dugout canoes as a means of transport. The local mariners believe that with more support, the numbers can be reduced, writes Job Namanya.
Davis Sunday, 30, has on many occasions rescued people who have been involved in accidents on Lake Bunyonyi.
At 15 years, Sunday dived into Africa's second deepest lake, to get a tourist's camera that had fallen into the lake. "I was in a boat with a group of tourists who were taking pictures. One of them accidentally dropped his camera into the water. I quickly offered to help," Sunday narrated.
He jumped into the lake and, in less than two minutes, he had found the camera. After several rescue missions, Sunday perfected his game.
On November 6, 2016, Justus Kurama, a resident of Kekuubo cell in the northern division, Kabale municipality, lost his son on a Sunday evening. The son drowned in the lake, after he veered off the road during his car driving lessons. Residents witnessed the incident, but none of them could help.
"We called the Police, but they could not do much, since they do not have a marine unit. So, we decided to help. I mobilised some boys and we pulled the car out of the lake. But the boy was already dead," Sunday narrated. It was after this incident that Sunday decided to start a marine team.
"I organised a group of five boys and we started an association of local mariners," he said.
The voluntary group says it rescues over 30 people from the lake and retrieves about 20 bodies every month. The biggest challenge the group faces, according to Sunday, is a lack of protective gear.
"We dive into the lake without oxygen cans and the boats we use are the normal ones. If we had a speed boat, we would be more effective," he said.
Tyson Ndamusenga, 28, is also a local mariner, who was inspired at a young age. "At 13 years, I rescued a woman who had drowned.
The single mother of three, was returning from the farm across the lake. I was near the shores when I saw her struggling. I rushed to the scene to help," he said. "After this incident, I was inspired to take up rescuing people as a career," he said.
He says he has so far rescued over 20 people. Rogers Kahunde, another local mariner, who also trains young people in swimming, said: "We should be empowered to train more youth in swimming. This way, there will be more marines on Lake Bunyonyi." Eng. Ivan Batuma, the chairperson of the Kigezi tourism cluster, said the Government should consider offering local mariners support because they are valuable to the society.
"Since the Government is supporting skills development through the Emyooga project, they should also adopt these mariners in their system," Batuma said.
ABOUT LAKE BUNYONYI
Lake Bunyonyi is believed to be the second deepest lake in Africa, with a depth of 40m (130ft). It is one of Uganda's top natural treasures, standing 1,962m above sea level. Its scenery is framed by lush, green-terraced hills that reach a height of 2,200-2,478m. It has 29 islands scattered across the water.
Enock Kazooba, the LC3 chairperson of Ryakarimira town council, said most accidents on Lake Bunyonyi are as a result of the carelessness of residents. "Most people overload their substandard boats, which puts the lives of the passengers at risk.
They also do not use life jackets," Kazooba said. He revealed that on a daily, over 10,000 people cross Lake Bunyonyi for various reasons. WHY PEOPLE CROSS THE LAKE Many learners are forced to cross to access their schools. The lake also attracts many tourists annually. Diaz Drakes Owoyesigyire, a tour company opeartor in the area, said: "Tourists enjoy visiting markets across the shores, which set up on different days of the week.
They, therefore, cross the lake on a daily." Lake Bunyonyi also has stages for canoes and motorboats at NdaruraBwiranye, KarengyereMushebeya, Buginga-Kagugo, Butenga-Kaberu, BurimbaBuhuturu, Hakazira-Murandi, Murambi-Bwama and KyevuMurungu.
Owoyesigyire said the provision of ferries and rescue speed boats at the lake would be a good move.
In December, 2011, two Danish tourists drowned in the lake while swimming, but since there were no rescue boats available, they died. In 2015, President Yoweri Museveni pledged to provide a ferry, however, this pledge has never been fulfilled.
ACCIDENTS ON LAKE BUNYOYI
AUGUST 26: Five family members drowned in the lake after their canoe capsized. The Police said the accident happened at 6:00pm, as the group was travelling from Ndekura landing site in Rubanda district to Karamba village. The deceased were identified as Glorious Ayebazibwe, 20 and her two sisters — Pretty Kyogabirwe, 9 and Ronah Ninsiima, 8.
On board were also Ayebazibwe's two daughters — Shanitah, 6 and a seven-month-old baby. "The sailor, Dalton Niwampa, 22, a resident of Karambo village, survived. He is believed to have swam to an unknown location. The boat capsized as a result of too much wind and overloading," the Police said.
AUGUST 11: Three people drowned in the lake after their canoe capsized.
The deceased were identified as John Bosco Tumuheki, Felix Arineitwe and Firicano Turyahikayo, all residents of Katetenkora village in Kabale district. Tarasisio Barinde, an eye witness, said the canoe was hit by a strong wave.
JUNE 2020: Two people from Muko sub-county in Rubanda district drowned while travelling in a canoe.
AUGUST 18, 2018: Davis Rukundo, a resident of Kyabahinda village in Kagarama parish, Bubare sub-county, drowned while canoeing. An unidentified engine boat hit his canoe, overturning it.
JUNE 26, 2018: Five people drowned after their boat capsized. Agnes Turyasingura, 29 and Patience Akampurira, 21, were aboard the boat, with their children aged nine and eight months, respectively. The same accident also claimed the life of Mackline Tumuhekyi, 20, a resident of Hamukaka village in Rubanda district. The Police said they were hit by heavy water waves.
NOVEMBER 2011: A 25-yearold woman and her 11-month-old baby drowned when their canoe capsized, on their way to attend a burial. AUGUST 21, 2016: Thanks Turyagumanawe, 22 and his wife, Loy Mukamasimwe, 21, drowned on their way from Mushebeya village in Kamuganguzi sub-county to their home in Ndarura village, Rubaaya subcounty, in Kabale district. On board was also their one-month-old son; their three-year-old daughter, Desire Gracious and Phionah Akankwatsa, 25, Turyagumanawe's sisterin-law.