She tells me “The new ferry has been built to replace the Ilala built in 1951. The Fast Crew Supplier, (FCS) 3307 Chilembwe, was commissioned by Malawi Shipping Company and built by Damen of The Netherlands, in Monkey Bay shipyard in central Africa. It is 32 metres long and 7 metres wide, with two fixed-pitch propellers and two Caterpillar C32 TTA (WOSR) engines rating 2460 bkW (3300 bhp) power. It will carry 120 passengers and 20 tons of cargo, including food and medicines, at a maximum speed of 22 knots.
Damen has built Fast Crew Suppliers in Vietnam, China, Brazil and France. ‘The challenge in Malawi has been working for ten hours a day in tropical temperatures,’ said piping foreman Gerrit Verhey of The Netherlands. ‘But everyone here is so friendly and willing. ‘Twenty six containers of parts and equipment were shipped from The Netherlands to South Africa and then transported 2,500 kms by road. The job was achieved in just over a year with engineers from The Netherlands, South Africa and the Philippines. Over 20 local people were trained in pipe fitting, electrics and aluminium welding, and the crew is being trained in computer-aided navigation.
Lake Malawi is 365 miles long, 52 miles wide and bordered by Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique. Its unpolluted water contains over 1,000 species of fish. Several million people live around the lake in remote fishing villages and on islands. For many their only transport is wooden dugout canoes, risking crocodiles, hippos and dangerous storms. Present at the launch was Francis Kasaila, Malawi’s Minister of Transport and Public Works, who said that water transport is an important catalyst for economic growth and poverty reduction on Lake Malawi.
Chilembwe’s twice weekly schedule will call at the remote villages and islands in the north of Lake Malawi, and take only two hours to reach Likoma Island, a journey which previously took over seven hours.
The new ship is named after John Chilembwe, a Malawian Baptist pastor who was killed by British troops in 1915, after he unsuccessfully instigated a revolt against colonialism. Now a national hero, he appears on 500 Kwacha Malawi bank notes. The 100th anniversary of his death is on 3 February 2015, to be celebrated in Malawi on ‘Chilembwe Day’ the national holiday of 16 January.