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Troubled waters: Tanzanian ships on Lake Malawi

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Malawi’s Ministry of Transport and Public works representatives and Tanzanian Ports Authority (TPA) officials have downplayed fears that the presence of Tanzanian cargo ships on Lake Malawi is an indication that Malawi has given up on the lake wrangle between the two countries.

Last week, TPA launched two cargo ships, MV Ruvuma and MV Njombe, with carrying capacity of 1000 metric tonnes each to be operating on Lake Malawi.

The launch took place in Nkhatabay district, where the Tanzanian envoy to Malawi, Benedict Mashimba represented the Tanzanian government and District Commissioner for Nkhatabay, Alex Mdooko, represented Malawi government.

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Malawi News has learnt that there is a Lake Shipping and Port Services Agreement which the Governments of the Republic of Malawi and the United Republic of Tanzania signed on 27th January, 1995 hence the ship operations.

The Agreement provides for the 60-40 rule which stipulates that for cargo originating from Tanzania, Tanzanian ships should carry 60 percent of that cargo while Malawian ships should carry 40 percent and vice-versa.

This also applies to passengers. However, owing to lack of passenger vessels in Tanzania due to non-availability of MV Songea and MV Iringa, MV Ilala has been carrying 100 percent of Tanzanian passengers to Nkhata Bay and other Malawian ports.

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But the launch of the new cargo ships has come at a time the two countries are in mediation talks over territorial dispute of the northern part of Lake Malawi. Malawi says it owns the whole lake while Tanzania is claiming half of the northern part.

The row over Lake Malawi is said to have been there mildly during Dr. Kamuzu Banda’s era but it gained currency when Malawi granted oil exploration rights to a British Firm,

Surestream, during late Bingu wa Mutharika’s regime.

Both the ministry of Transport and Public Works and TPA say these operations are  based on the bilateral agreement and not the boundary issues.

The ministry’s spokesperson, James Chakwera said the operations of Tanzanian ships on Lake Malawi are in line with the provisions of this agreement.

“The objective of the Agreement is to regulate ship operations on Lake Malawi as well as to facilitate trade between the two countries.

Through this Agreement, vessels from the two countries have freely carried out operations.

Malawi vessels have been ferrying cargo through Itungi, Mbamba Bay, Kiwira and Ndumbi on the Tanzania side.”

“Passenger vessels have also been calling at Mbamba Bay in Tanzania under the same Agreement. For cargo, the most recent notable one being the transportation of clinker for Lafarge Cement Company (Malawi) Limited by MV Karonga, (a Malawi Shipping Company vessel) from Kiwira in Tanzania to Monkey Bay. The vessel arrived in Monkey Bay with 270 MT of clinker for Lafarge Cement,” explained Chakwera in a written response.

He emphasized that the recently launched operations and other operations from the

Tanzanian side are guided by the said Agreement as well as the African Maritime Charter to which Malawi is also a party.

“There was therefore no requirement for any special consent since the operations were in line with the Agreement.

Operations of vessels both from/ to Malawi/Tanzania have always been, and will continue to be there under the Agreement  between the two States,” Chakwera said.

He said Malawi will directly and indirectly benefit from these ship operations, saying water transport is the cheapest mode of transport and the coming in of these vessels will propel Malawi’s efforts in reducing its transport costs and generate revenue.

Communications Manager for TPA, Janeth Ruzangi said this Agreement was made between the two governments and not their organisation and Malawi government.

She hinted that the media should champion the advocacy for the spirit of cooperation, peace and harmony between the two countries.

“Through the bilateral agreement, Tanzania receives Malawi vessels on the same Lake Nyasa with no problems, likewise the Tanzanians vessels in Malawi, therefore the issue

of trading between the two countries is well considered,” she said. Asked to comment on the fears that the launched ships intend to spy on possible minerals in Lake

Malawi, Ruzangi said: “….this is speculation unless there is evidence to that, no  comment on that.”

Meanwhile, Spokesperson for Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Rejoice Shumba said the ministry is waiting for the High Level Mediation Team to brief and consult the Heads of State of the Republic of Malawi and Tanzania as they had proposed.

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