Lake Victoria Marine Services

Lake Victoria


Main article: Lake Victoria ferries § Steamers


Almost from its inception the Uganda Railway developed shipping services on Lake Victoria. In 1898 it launched the 110 ton SS William Mackinnon at Kisumu, having assembled the vessel from a "knock down" kit supplied by Bow, McLachlan and Company of Paisley in Scotland. A succession of further Bow, McLachlan & Co. "knock down" kits followed. The 662 ton sister ships SS Winifred and SS Sybil (1902 and 1903), the 1,134 ton SS Clement Hill (1907) and the 1,300 ton sister ships SS Rusinga and SS Usoga (1914 and 1915) were combined passenger and cargo ferries. The 812 ton SS Nyanza (launched after Clement Hill) was purely a cargo ship. The 228 ton SS Kavirondo launched in 1913 was a tugboat. Two more tugboats from Bow, McLachlan were added in 1925: SS Buganda and SS Buvuma.[24][25]


Lake Kyoga, Lake Albert and the Nile


The company extended its steamer service with a route across Lake Kyoga and down the Victoria Nile to Pakwach at the head of the Albert Nile. Its Lake Victoria ships were unsuitable for river work so it introduced the stern wheel paddle steamers PS Speke (1910)[26] and PS Stanley (1913)[26] for the new service. In the 1920s the company added PS Grant (1925)[26] and the side wheel paddle steamer PS Lugard (1927).[26]


Nyanza Watering Places
Story of SS William Mackinnon


Early in the 1820s David Napier conceived the grand notion of the Firth of Clyde 'Watering-places' which, for more than a century, were to occupy a special affection in the hearts of Scots in general and Clydesiders in particular, and the nostalgia of the trips 'doon the watter' lingers on. At this time Napier was the acknowledged genius of the steamship constructors but was frustrated by the reluctance of sailing ship owners and operators to change, and by the temerity of potential passengers.

Steamboats on the Victoria Nyanza

It is dogged that does it" might be applied to some of the work of the Foreign Office in East Central Africa. Under local circumstances of the greatest difficulty' the Foreign Offices has persisted for years in endeavouring to place and maintain steamboats, under the charge of the Uganda Administration, on Lake Victoria Nyanza. This Lake we might remind our readers has a superficies of nearly 30,000 square miles, and is all intents and purposes, a great inland sea, with water, fully as stormy as those of the English or Irish Channel. The first idea of placing a steamer on Lake Victoria, however, was initiated by the late Sir William Mackinnon on behalf of the Imperial British East Africa Company.


Sir William entrusted the design and construction of this steamer to a firm Glasgow Ship builders. When the vessel was completed and ready to go out the Government had already taken over the charge of Uganda, and amongst other assets it purchased this steamer from the British East African Company, naming it, very appropriately, the William Mackinnon.

It proved to be no light task, however, the sending of this, steamer in sections and pieces over about 600 miles of land between Mombasa and the shores of Victoria Nyanza. The late Captain B.I Scalter, he first of all made a road that waggons could use from Mombasa for the greater part of the way to Lake Victoria, but he died before he was able to undertake the second task of conveying the steamer sections along that road. Various other means of transport failed, and at last the Uganda Railway took matter in hand. Portions of the William Mackinnon stowed the line of strewed waggon, between Mombasa and Kikuyu escarpments halfway to Uganda. All these pieces were gathered up rail, waggon and native potters were finally landed by the employers of Railway at Kisumu which is the name of the government station at Kavirondo Bay.  This station is close to the projected Railway station which is to be called Port Florence.   Kavirondo Bay is long inlet of Victoria, Nyanza which was formerly called Ugowe, the real Ugowe Bay of Stanley's discovery being a shallowed inlet further to the North.In December 1899 the Engineers of the Uganda Railways commenced the construction of the William Mackinnon. This vessel was launched in June 1900 and started her first voyage across the lake on 15 th November 1900. She is far the biggest steamer or vessel of any description has yet to be seen on this great Lake.



Early in the 1820s David Napier conceived the grand notion of the Firth of Clyde 'Watering-places' which, for more than a century, were to occupy a special affection in the hearts of Scots in general and Clydesiders in particular, and the nostalgia of the trips 'doon the watter' lingers on. At this time Napier was the acknowledged genius of the steamship constructors but was frustrated by the reluctance of sailing ship owners and operators to change, and by the temerity of potential passengers.


Steamboats on the Victoria Nyanza


The East African Railways and Harbours have in the years since the 1939-45 war steadily developed and expanded the transport facilities of the East African territories to meet the needs of a rapidly developing economy. Included in the overall plan was provision for improved passenger facilities in the steamship services operated by the Railway on Lake Victoria, and late in 1949 marine consultants in the United Kingdom were invited to design a modern steamer primarily for the carriage of passengers on this lake.

Changes in circumstances necessitated the amendment of the original plans, but in 1956 a final design submitted by the Naval Architects, Sir J. H. Biles and Company, was approved and tenders were invited from United Kingdom and Continental ship-builders for the construction of the vessel. The contract was awarded to Messrs Yarrow & Company of Glasgow at a total cost, completed in East Africa, of £686,000. The cost of the vessel included bolt-assembly at the builders’ yard, dismantling into sections suitable for shipment to East Africa and re-erection at Kisumu.


The keel of the new ship was laid down in Messrs Yarrow’s yard, Glasgow, on 20th June, 1958, and the main structure of the ship, bolt-assembled, was completed in June, 1959. Dismantling of the component parts for shipment to East Africa was begun late in June, 1959, after the ship had been inspected and passed by the Naval Architects and Crown Agents’ inspecting engineers.

When the contract for the new ship was placed, consideration was given to a name for her, and with the agreement of the three East African Governors the name Victoria was selected. In September, 1958, Her Majesty The Queen graciously gave her consent to the use of the prefix “Royal Mail Ship” to the ship’s name, since she will be used for the carriage of Her Majesty’s mails, and from that date onwards the vessel has been known as the R.M.S. Victoria.

By mid-December, 1959, sufficient of the steel-work had reached Kisumu to enable the keel to be laid. From then onwards the re-erection of the vessel advanced rapidly, the work being under the general supervision of the Railway’s Senior Marine Engineer, assisted by a small number of skilled stall provided by the builders. The total dockyard staff comprised three foremen, some 50 skilled artisans and 150 semi-skilled artisans and labourers, all of whom were either permanently employed by the East African Railways and Harbours or were specially engaged for the work. On 5th September, I960, construction had reached the main deck and the vessel was successfully launched and moved to the dry dock at Kisumu for completion and fitting out.

The new ship is the largest bolt-assembled vessel ever to be built in one country for re-erection in another. She is also the largest ship ever built for service on Lake Victoria, and the slipway at Kisumu could only just accommodate her, so that her weight at the time of launching had to be kept to an absolute minimum. In ship-building yards in the United Kingdom and other countries ships are usually launched with the upper works completed and frequently with machinery installed, but in the case of the Victoria only the main hull plating up to the main deck could be completed before launching.

Once the vessel was afloat, work began on the installation of the machinery and electrical equipment, coincidentally with the re-erection of the upper decks. Work progressed satisfactorily and by mid-1960 it was possible to make a start on the installation of the refrigeration equipment and the fitting out of the passenger accommodation.

Early in June, 1961, sufficient progress had been made to allow preliminary basin trials to begin and on 9th June the ship left the dry dock to start trials under power on the open lake. These were sufficiently satisfactory to allow the official trials to be carried out on 15th/16th June, 1961, and the ship was officially accepted by the East African Railways and Harbours from the builders on 1st July.

The R.M.S. Victoria has been specially designed for the carriage of passengers in tropical conditions. She has a loaded displacement of 1,500 tons, is 261 feet long, with a beam of 40 feet, and is so designed that her maximum draft when fully loaded will not exceed 9 feet. Her service speed of 13.25 knots will enable her to make two voyages round Lake Victoria in a week, thereby providing a fast service between the major ports on Lake Victoria at a frequency similar to that now offered by the two existing steamers, s.s. Usoga and Rusinga.

Cabin and lounge accommodation and deck space are provided for all classes of passengers, and to ensure the comfort of passengers and crew all accommodation is ventilated by the Thermo-Tank system. The First Class passengers are accommodated in 18 two-berth cabins equipped with modern furnishings; there is also a spacious lounge bar and a dining-saloon to seat 36 passengers. A fully equipped electric galley situated on the main deck serves the pantry adjoining the dining-saloon. Second Class passengers are accommodated in 11 six- berth cabins, and a separate cafeteria, equipped with modern appliances and comfortably furnished, has been provided for their exclusive use.

The 500 Third Class passengers are accommodated in two comfortable lounges equipped with upholstered seating. A tea-bar serves hot and cold drinks and snacks and is conveniently situated so as to serve both the upper lounge and open decks.


Although the new ship is designed primarily for the carriage of passengers, provision has also been made for the carriage of some 5,000 cubic feet of refrigerated cargo. For many years there has been an urgent need to provide proper facilities for the transport of milk, meat and other perishables to the more isolated towns situated on the Lake Victoria littoral and, to meet public demands, the R.M.S.

Victoria is equipped to carry all kinds of perishable cargo at temperatures as low as minus 5 deg F. As passengers travelling over Lake Victoria frequently find it necessary to travel with their cars, provision has been made for the carriage of up to 12 motor vehicles. These will be stowed below decks and, to enable them to be loaded and unloaded quickly and safely, an electric crane has been provided on the forward well-deck.


The ship is driven by twin Crossley 10-cylinder diesel engines developing 850 b.h.p. each. These engines are of the very latest design and have been specially adapted for service in the tropics.

To provide electric power for the many public services and for the general running of the ship, two 125 kw electric generators have been installed. The vessel is equipped with up-to-date navigational and life-saving equipment to British Ministry of Transport standards. Spacious quarters immediately below the bridge have been provided for her officers and the remainder of the crew' are accommodated in airy well-equipped cabins on the main deck. A modern oil-fired galley and spacious mess room have also been provided for the crew.

The R.M.S. Victoria enters regular passenger service on 2nd August, 1961, thereafter sailing from Kisumu each Wednesday morning and Sunday evening.

R.M.S "Victoria" Voyage one (Scheduled route).

Overview of MV Victoria (1959) – Construction and Service

Tanzania’s Marine Services Company Limited operates the MV Victoria, one of Lake Victoria ferries. MV Victoria was the Royal Mail Ship RMS Victoria until Kenya gained independence from the UK in 1963.

MV Victoria functioned under the flag of Kenya till 1977; then, she was handed over to Tanzania. Building of MV Victoria, MV Victoria was designed as a “tear down” ship.

MV Victoria was built by Yarrow Shipbuilders Limited in Scots-town, Glasgow, and demolished in June 1959. MV Victoria was subsequently shipped to Kisumu on Lake Victoria in 1,500 cartons through Mombasa, where reassembly began in December 1959 and she was inaugurated on September 5, 1960.

On June 26, 1961, she was delivered to EAR&H (the East African Railways and Harbours Corporation) and commissioned on July 22.

During MV Victoria commissioning, the ship was granted the designation of Royal Mail Ship (RMS) by Elizabeth II, making MV Victoria the only EAR&H ship with this reputation.

MV Victoria Service

MV Victoria had a capacity of 230 people and 200 tons of freight when it was launched in 1961, and it had refrigeration for non – durable cargo.

MV Victoria replaced the EAR&H’s circular service around Lake Victoria’s ports, cutting the overall travel time in half to two and a half days, allowing her to serve all of the lake’s ports twice a week.

As a result, EAR&H issued new passenger prices and freight charges for various classes of freight on MV Victoria. The EAR&H was partitioned between Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya in 1977, and MV Victoria was passed to Tanzania Railways. In 1997, the inland shipping department of TRC became a different cooperation, the Marine Services Company Ltd.

The MV Victoria has been repaired and is scheduled to resume service between Mwanza and Bukoba in June 2020. Under the name “New Victoria,” the ferry began service on the Mwanza-Bukoba route in August 2020, as anticipated. The ship resumed operations one month later after a scheduled yearly check-up in September 2021.

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