Decades of transportation woos in Likoma Island

By Campos Barichi

It is 5 o’clock on Monday evening, numerous islanders from Likoma and Chizumulu, are struggling to get themselves a seat inside the MV Ilala at Nkhatabay jetty.

Likoma’s only transportation

The struggle and pushing each other to the ground, leave others with a bad experience about what the whole journey to Likoma means. But this, signifies the desperation for the only transport to the two beautiful islands on the Lake Malawi.

In around 8pm, the first hooter is blown by the captain to alert those who have gone to come on board, the ship is about to depart at the Nkhatabay jetty.

Those who escorted their relatives, and other tourists are quickly rushing down before the link to the mainland is disconnected.

…standby for departure, standby for departure,” announces the captain of the ship before engaging the gears in reverse pointing at Chizumulu island direction.

Checking the time, there are few minutes before the hour of 9 o’clock. Its night, but here we go, the nine hour-cruise on the Lake Malawi for a 78 kilometer journey has started.

The cold breeze from the lake force everyone fetch for warm clothes while women fish out baby blankets and wrap up their babies and themselves.

Lake sailing is more complex than an open sea, but more predictable. A lake, like any body of water is enclosed by land and is subject to gradient winds, always offshore, and by thermo winds—the lake breeze itself as well as winds generated by the surrounding terrain.

The likelihood of development and the strength of lake breezes and upslope winds are proportional to the ease of liftoff from the near-lake land. Consequently, an issue of Mwela winds is not an exception when sailing on Lake Malawi.

However, to those who have ever experienced Mwela winds at the lake, they swore not to board the MV Ilala ship again in their lifetime. The staggering in the uphill of water waves, leave alot of people vomiting their best food they had before departing at Nkhatabay town.

Luckily enough, today, the lake is calm and the captain of the ship seem to enjoy cruising on a cool water surface. Slowly, looking back at Nkhatabay, the lights seems appearing like stars in the sky, meaning the ship has covered a huge distance.

The beer guzzlers are glued to the counter taking the cold one for a warmth during the long night travel. Stories of the island, business, politics, development among others topples their chatting in the ticking clock down the morning hours.
Chizumulu Island

…standby for Chizumulu island, standby for chizumulu,”announces the captain again, awakening those who were fast asleep.

The ship pulls to a halt at the distance of 100 metres from the shore, in few minutes, the MV Ilala rolls down its sister engine boats from both sides, to help ferry-off passengers to the land.

Later, several private boat operators surround the ship to transport people and their luggage to the mainland.

One by one, both men and women, jump into the boats and off they go.
But much as it seem they are used to grabbing the boats, the comfort seems lacking from a look on their faces.

The risk of the people falling in the water and losing their lives is huge.

A scramble for a seat inside Ilala vessel

Such is the life for the islanders of Chizumulu and Likoma. The pride for their beautiful island seems incomplete due to the absence of a Jetty.
Unlike on the road where there are stages and a bus would stop, it is different with the water transport in the absence of a jetty.

The absence of a jetty in both Chizumulu and Likoma is much felt in the hours the ship spend at one point to give people more time to disembark and offload their luggage to the mainland.

For instance, the maximum hours the ship spend at Chizumulu from nkhatabay is about 4-5 hours. When the ship depart from Nkhatabay at 20 hours in the evening, it arrives at Chizumulu at 12 midnight, and leaves for Likoma in around 4 and sometimes at 5am.

Likoma Island

In between 6 and 7am on Tuesday, is normally the time to dock at Likoma island. The welcoming beauty from the surrounding mountains signifies the life bestowed in the heart of the islanders.

The same way, there is no jetty, the MV Ilala docks at a far distance from the land. As usual, boat owners smile to ferry everyone and their luggage to the shore.

Transportation woos

Water transport in Malawi continues to face challenges due to to inadequate ships to ferry people on daily basis.
Traveling to Likoma and Chizumulu islands is not easy as people travel on the land.

The transportation woos have sometimes worsened the motivation in both business, work and sometimes tourism services.
When the Vessel is due for service the people are forced to jump into boats to the mainland to catch basic necessities.

Sailing in a boat might not be easy as people think. The anxiety that comes before the journey makes people sick ahead of the voyage.
The strength of the boats are haunted when Mwela winds strikes on the lake. The staggering dance on the go leaves the passengers on board feeling dizzy and sick due to vomiting.

However, the year 2020 has been the worst to the islanders. The sit in by the Malawi Shipping company workers in the months of July and September respectively and withdrawal of Mozambican MV Chambo due to Covid-19 issues registered huge impact on the People.

The Malawi’s Marine Department wrote Mozambican Authorities to resume MV Chambo which calls at Likoma, Chizumulu and Nkhatabay to minimize the transport challenges faced by the people on the Island.

One of business lady in the district, Lusungu Sonjo bemoaned the absence of jetty on the island which she said puts alot of lives at risk.
Sonjo who also owns boats, say a number of Women and Children struggle to jump into the boats with their luggage to offshore.

“It is very challenging to see women struggle using boats from ilala to the land. Imagine you have children, and getting each to the boat is very difficult. We would love if the jetty project was speeded to ease the current challenges,” said Sonjo

Likoma Jetty project

In March 2019, the previous Minister of Transport in DPP government, Jappie Mhango led the launch of a MK10 billion jetty project in Likoma.
The launch sent shivers of delightment to the islanders looking at challenges encountered to ferry luggage, as well as making it on-board to the ship.

However, since the launch in 2019, very minimal progress has taken place which sometimes has made the islanders lose hope about the project.

Sub Traditional Authority Mwase said the coming of the new government has given hope to the islanders of seeing the project completed on time.

Mwase said the islanders have persevered the struggle of boarding the MV Ilala while docking at a distance of 100 meters from the shore.

“We wish government would also consider to help us. apart from the Jetty, they should also consider to buy another ship because the MV Ilala has stayed close to 50 years and it’s lifespan has been reduced. However, we are hopeful that once complete, the jetty is also likely to add beauty on the island,” said Mwase

Director of women forum on the island, Innocensia Mwaithula thanked government for the project saying women and especially the elderly face problems to board MV Ilala due to absence of a jetty.

She said for years, women have fallen vulnerable and exposed to various maltreatment when boarding Ilala or other boats.

“We are excited to see the Jetty project and we wish it is completed within the agreed time so that women vulnerability can come to an end. Take for instance a woman with children and she has luggage as well, we end up losing alot of money hiring boats to the shore.

“And sometimes, due to pressure, there is huge scramble and it is very bad experience to a woman with a child on her back,” said Mwaithula

However, the Ministry of Transport has attributed delay of commencement of actual construction of Likoma jety to dredging works at Chipoka in Salima.

Spokesperson in the Ministry of Transport Andrew Mthiko said on Sunday that actual construction works for jetty might delay due to dredging works to allow badges for loading cargo to Likoma.

“Due to siltation, the Chipoka Port was not in a position to allow the use of barges for loading cargo. Consequently, it had to be dredged so as to increase the water depth. Dredging of Chipoka Port started in December 2020. Hopefully, it will be completed in February 2021.

“According to the construction programme, the Contractor was supposed to commence installation of piles, which will support the jetty deck, in April 2021. However, in view of the dredging works at Chipoka and the period required to transport the pre-cast units, the installation of the piles might be delayed,” said Mthiko

Mthiko said although the construction site completion has delayed, it does not affect the progress of the construction of the Jetty as pre-casting is being done off site; but said there is progress in areas of precasting deck units, construction of camp buildings and preparation of transport route.

The PRO said the campsite which will comprise offices, storage buildings, workshops and water tank including concrete batching areas is in progress in Likoma and when completed, the camp will allow for hosting the full complement of personnel and equipment.