THE Port Bell pier in Luzira was built as an air/sea port and was opened in 1908. It was used by the Imperial Airways to fly in passenger boats and mail services. It was also used as a stop-over between Southampton and Johannesburg. It served mainly as the landing port for goods between Port Florence (now Kisumu) and Kampala. Later, a short, six mile line was built to join it to Kampala. It was once mooted as a possible connection port for the “Cape to Cairo” line. It would have had to be converted to the cape gauge.
After opening the Kampala station, it continued to increase in status, until 1962 when it was abandoned due to floods and the connecting line lifted. In 1992, with the assistance of DANIDA, it was re-built with a railway link to replace Jinja as the main gateway to the southern route (Central Corridor). It was also to act as a supplementary route to the Northern Corridor.
It was once served by five wagon ferries, carrying as much as 45,000 tonnes per month. Currently, the port mainly serves small private boats carrying fuel and general cargo. The MV Umoja (a Tanzanian ferry) operates only occasionally on special charter. This situation is poised to change after the rehabilitation of the MV Kaawa.
Uganda’s remaining three giant wagon ferries are currently grounded, pending rehabilitation. MV Kaawa is being refurbished and the works began with the rehabilitation of the dry dock at a cost of about sh7b. The works on this ferry are expected to be finished soon. Later, it will be taken off the dock to the water for testing to assess whether it comforms to seaworthiness.
Charles Kateeba, the chief mechanical engineer of the Uganda Railways Corporation, said immediately after the repairs of MV Kaawa, it will be handed to Rift Valley Railways (RVR), the concessionaire of Uganda Railways Corporation (URC) for operation and management
However, the rehabilitation of MV Pamba is awaiting the allocation of funds from the finance ministry, while the sub-merged MV Kabalega also awaits retrieval from the water by maritime experts. MV Kabalega submerged in Lake Victoria in 2005 and plans are underway to retrieve it. MV Pamba is still grounded at the port, pending repairs.
Kateeba said the preliminary design and feasibility study funded by the Government at a cost of about sh2b for remodelling and expansion of the port. This also includes the construction of the new ship to replace the submerged MV Kababalega. After remodelling and upgrading the port, it is expected to handle railway wagon ferries, container ships as well as general cargo and passenger vessels much better. The Government is working closely with that of Tanzania to strengthen the corridor further by opening up the Tanga Musoma line.