Dense mats of water hyacinth and hippo grass steadily taking over Lake Victoria have closed the fishing and tourist boating industries in Kenya’s third largest city, Kisumu, and are threatening fish stocks.
The situation is so serious that the World Bank funded a loan for the Kenyan government and tendered for a special type of weed dredger that has now been constructed by Italian builder Italdraghe and is currently on its way to Kisumu, where it will be based and will become the lynchpin of ‘The Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project, Phase 2’.
Speaking exclusively to IHS Maritime, an Italdraghe spokeswoman said, “The problem dates to the 1980s. Rivers flowing into Lake Victoria, the world’s second largest freshwater lake, carry fertiliser washed in from farmland and that has dramatically increased the amount of water hyacinth and hippo grass.”
Some areas of Italy had similar problems, she added, and Italdraghe has experience of building these special dredgers.
“The vessel’s all-welded hull is 11.2 m long, 3.8 m wide, powered by an Iveco N45ENT 75kW engine, and propels itself with two side paddle wheels – it must move forward as it cuts into the weed mats. Side paddles are fitted as a normal propeller would be choked by the weeds.
“It will be the first such vessel on Lake Victoria and works using three conveyors,” she explained. “The first lifts cut weed into a 13 m3 hopper built into the hull. The hopper has its own conveyor to ensure an even load, while the third conveyor lifts the weed out of the hopper and up to 4 m high so it can be deposited into a barge, onto a quayside or into lorries. The vessel can cut about 20 tonnes of weed per hour and offload at a minimum rate of 500 kilos per minute.”
Doubly certified by both the Italian Naval Registry and Bureau Veritas, the vessel was inspected at Italdraghe’s yard by a team of Kenyan government officials who gave the go ahead for its immediate shipment.
Currently travelling by sea to Mombasa, it will be shipped overland to Kisumu and should arrive in mid-October.
“Our technicians will then fly out to assemble and commission the vessel,” the spokeswoman said, “and provide a thorough training course for the local operators who will be responsible for its long-term use and maintenance. It should be in action by the end of October at the latest.
“We’ve had interest from several other countries, such as Ethiopia, with similar problems,” she concluded. “They will be closely watching the vessel’s performance on Lake Victoria.”