Usizame is a free SMS-based ferry check-in and alert system, designed to help prevent marine accidents in Tanzania. It is a prototype that will be tested over the next few months with the idea of taking it to the level of all ferries between Unguja, Pemba and Dar Es Salaam.

Boat passengers will be able to check onto their ferry with their name via a free, simple SMS – which will help to create a clearer picture of who is, and how many passengers are, on each boat.

Usizame will keep a real-time record of numbers of passengers on each boat, supply them with information about the capacity of the boat and will trigger an alert if a boat is overloaded. Passengers will be notified, allowing them to leave the boat before it leaves port. It will also mean a public record of the number of overloaded boats that sail.

Usizame will also include an early warning system about bad weather conditions, so that people can choose whether they want to travel on a particular boat or day – for example in the case of high winds.

Lastly, there will be an emergency alert system that will notify passengers, families, subscribers, mainstream media, social media and authorities in the event of a verified instance of a ferry experiencing problems.

Tanzania has over the last few decades had a tragic history of marine disasters. Back in 1996 MV Bukoba, which carried passengers and cargo between the Tanzanian ports of Bukoba and Mwanza, capsized on Lake Victoria, with as many as 1000 passengers reported as drowned. However things have come to a head in the last year. The MV Spice Islander tragedy on 9 September 2011, off the northern shores of Zanzibar, is thought to have killed some 1600 people, many of whom were women and children travelling to Pemba to celebrate Eid. Then came the MV Skagit disaster on 17 July 2012, in which an overloaded boat travelling from Dar to Zanzibar sank, killing around 150 people.

A group of professionals based in Tanzania then decided “enough is enough”. Rather than start a long and wearisome lobbying campaign, we decided to act practically, and create a system with the potential of creating transport safety awareness, and aimed at stopping ferries sailing when they are overloaded.

(Source: Usizame Website)

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