Tanzania - SMS app ensures safe ferry trip

Digital Content

Tanzanians could soon have access to an SMS application that enables the country’s ferry passengers to confirm and ensure that the vessel they are set to board on is indeed safe for travel.

Usizame, or ‘don’t drown’ in the local Kiswahili language, is expected to begin testing the prototype system from today and systematically roll out the product across a series of ferries travelling between Unguja, Pemba and Dar Es Salaam.

The Usizame initiative comes in response to a series of tragic maritime accidents stretching as far back as 1996 to the capsizing of the MV Bukomba, which saw an estimated 1000 people drown.

There has, however, been two more recent accidents over the last year that saw the people behind Usizame come together to find a solution.

“There had been two major ferry accidents in one year, first the sinking of the Spice Islander in September 2011 and then the Skagit in July 2012, and the result was many hundreds of deaths and grieving families,” explains Rachel Hamada, one of the co-founders of Usizame.

“We decided that enough was enough – and if safety standards were not being adhered to for passengers, that we would help passengers to improve safety standards from the ground up,” adds Hamada.

The prototype system can receive SMS messages, allow registration via SMS, and receive passenger check-ins and produce auto responses. Once first-stage testing is complete, details of the public trial are planned to be announced.

Hamada explains that Usizame is an on-going collaboration among a number of professionals across Tanzania and Zanzibar.

In a country where internet penetration remains low the creation of an SMS-based solution was both inevitable and inspired.

“The idea is to make use of the high level of mobile phone penetration in Zanzibar and Tanzania to allow people to co-operate to improve their own safety – we will collate information within our system and, if necessary, feed it back to passengers in a way that should help them make informed choices about the risks they are taking,” she said.

Thanks to Usizame, passengers are set to be able to check into their ferry with their name through a free SMS to help establish a record of exactly who is, and how many passengers are, on each boat.

In addition Usizame is designed to collect information that will make the solution able to warn passengers in the case of overloading or inclement weather conditions.

Also passengers can quickly log and verify any emergency situations and notify family members and authorities to ensure a fast response.

It is designed to create more awareness among ferry users of their right to be safe from harm and at the same time also make the ferry operators more aware and accountable regarding their responsibilities.

If the boat is in danger after departing, passengers would be able to send a free text alerting Usizame that the vessel is in peril.

Information would then be verified and subsequently automatic alerts would be sent to the authorities, media and chosen family members in order to ensure the fastest response possible.