Tanzania launches two vessels on disputed, shared lake

Tanzania has flagged off two ships on Lake Nyasa/Malawi, amid a border dispute pitting Dar and one of its southern neighbours, Malawi.

Malawi maintains that the entire northern half of the lake belongs to it and has threatened to approach the International Court of Justice in The Hague to seek resolution.

Tanzania, too, claims the lake.

Dr Isack Kamwelwe, Works, Transport and Communications Minister, recently visited Itungi and Kiwira ports in Mbeya region to witness the operations of the ships built by Songoro Marine Transport at a cost of Tsh27 billion ($12.3 million).

While the ships have a capacity of 1,000 tonnes each, one is a passenger vessel that can hold 200 passengers and 200 tonnes of cargo.

Dr Kamwelwe assured residents and traders in this southern highlands region that the government would refurbish the 27km-Keyla-Itungi-Kiwira road.

He was responding to a complaint by the Itungi port manager, Galus Abeid, that the pathetic condition of the road was impacting the performance of the port.

A feasibility study had been done and construction of the road is expected to begin in the next financial year, the minister said.

Malawi protested in 2013 when Tanzania unveiled its plan to build the ships for the lake, saying the plan would complicate the ongoing mediation efforts.

Malawi claimed ownership based on the 1890 Helgoland Agreement and awarded prospecting licences to two British oil companies, Surestream Petroleum and Sacoil.

Notwithstanding the conflict, which dates back to the 1960s, Tanzanians and Malawians have been sharing the disputed half of the lake, but the gas finds have intensified the simmering dispute.

Home to 1,000 species of fish, the lake sustains nearly 10 million people in the riparian countries of Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.

In 2012, the two countries sought the intervention of the Southern African Development Community, which tasked a team of former heads of state and government led by Joaquim Chissano to mediate the conflict.

Tanzania has continued with its development plan for the region.

Tanzanian authorities say that about 600,000 families depend on the lake.

In the1960s, Dr Kamuzu Banda, founding President of Malawi, first claimed the lake and the whole of area of Njombe in Mbeya, as part of Malawi, provoking Mwalimu Julius Nyerere to issue a counterargument.

Tanzanians call it Lake Nyasa but Malawians call it Lake Malawi.

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