This publication makes compelling reading for all those who have had any contact
with East Africa or any interest in maritime matters and development of the colonies.
The considerable amount of research and investigation that has been carried out to make
this presentation possible has made it a combination of a technical and historical interest
conjuring up memories of fact and no doubt in many cases possibly stimulating the
imagination. The author's personal involvement in several incidents described are well
documented. Some good colour prints of vessels would have enhanced the contents of the
book, particularly when so many are available these days. It is difficult to say how many
omissions have been made and the accuracy and detail of certain accounts are
questionable with the exception of those with which the author was directly involved.
Much is said about where the blame lies for the many strandings and losses but little
consideration is given to the age and conditions of certain casualties. It is not possible or
necessary to comment on every such case, but as examples I mention a few. In the case
of the loss of the Bente Dania, the owner's superintendent was completely in charge of
the rescue operations and the Kenya Navy was in no other way involved apart from
flying the crew back to Mombasa. In 1993 the Canadian Spirit crashed into the quay in
Mombasa at half speed and at right angles. Luckily the quay was not badly damaged but
the vessel's bow certainly was. The Bonsella capsized alongside at Tanga due to
instability caused by the ballast tanks not being completely full of water. No mention is
made of the loss of the Acor, Angel or the Aventure and probably many others.
The East Coast of Africa is really no different to many other areas in the world where
the seas are governed by wind, tide and strong currents, which have been well described
in numerous publications. It is a pity this book is restricted to shipwrecks mainly in
Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, bearing in mind the total number of known casualties
which have occurred between Cape Gardafui, Somalia down to The Cape of Good Hope,
possibly close to 1,000 or more.
Credit must be given to the mariners of the early years for their skill and ability to
survive despite the lack of navigational aids and technical knowledge, particularly
Originally the relevant important trading areas over the years were primarily with the
Yemen, the Persian Gulf and India, Kenya and Tanganyika. Mombasa became a major
passenger port for European settlers and Asian immigrants. Later, this was also to
become of considerable importance for members of the Colonial Service developing and
administering the colonies. These services were suspended during the two World Wars
and thereafter continued until such time that regular commercial air travel was developed
after World War two.
Very few of the casualties described in this book have been caused by collisions
which are invariably caused by human error. Thankfully I am not aware of the stranding
of any of those carrying substantial numbers of passengers on the East African Coast
with the exception of ferries. Stranding or groundings are invariably caused by weatherenhanced
circumstances but increasingly are due to negligence and in many cases to
inexperienced ship's crews and sub-standard vessels. In the case of overladen ferries
such disasters have caused considerable loss of life. I note that most of the vessels
described are 'vintage' vessels and many I have boarded in Mombasa and Dar es Salaam
between 1982 and 2000 have been questionably seaworthy. As evidenced in the book,
facilities and expertise have not been developed to handle any major disaster from
whatever cause and that is one of the reasons why Mombasa and Dar es Salaam have
become graveyards for so many ships just abandoned and left to rust away or to be sold
for scrap. At the present time, with the exception of port areas, there is no practical way
of handling heavy pollution should it occur.
However, the book is well worth reading and gives a good insight into how the
Interior was opened up for trade, particularly with the introduction of the railways and
opening up of the Lakes.