By Innocent Atuganyira
BULIISA: The SS Robert Coryndon was once the life of Lake Albert marine services from 1930-1962, natural disaster and fate ruined it, leaving a wreck that is no more.
The steamship was named after Sir Robert Thorne Coryndon, the then Governor and Commander in chief of Uganda between 1918 -1922. The Coryndon’s glory years were between 1930-1962 when it sank, left its formidable hulk half-peeping out of the blue-green water which are no longer in existence.
However, by 2009 she was still unsalvageable and partly submerged at Butiaba Port on Lake Albert in Buliisa district. By the beginning of 2012 her wreck had been taken away “in bits and pieces by cutting all the metal remains for scrap” and only her aft king posts were still visible above the water.
It was built by shipbuilding Company Thorneycroft & Co. in 1929, Southampton based company. The SS Robert Coryndon measured 207 feet (63m), and weighed 860 tonnes.
The parts would be numbered and disassembled for the sea journey down to Mombasa from where the pieces would be transported by rail to Lake Albert and reassembled on the shore. The SS Robert Coryndon was the jewel of British colonial administration in Uganda winning admiration from many who traveled in it either for business or leisure.
This ship was the first and only operational Class ‘A’ ferry with modern marine services in Uganda. It was owned by Kenya and Uganda Railways until 1948 when the authority became East African Railways and Harbors Corporation. It plied the Butiaba – Congo water route, passing through Pakwach in Nebbi district, and traversed the routes of Panyimur to Pakwach and Pakwach to Ndora and then Kasenyi and Mahagi Ports in northern parts of Belgian Congo.
Juliet Gafabusa an elder explains that in past, many people would converge on Butiaba Port to use different vessels to transport goods and people across Lake Albert, and the great ferry was major means of transport.
According to the reliable sources, Winston Churchill a well-traveled man who visited Uganda in 1940’s declared that the ship had the best and well-outfitted library float in the whole globe.
WHAT RUINED THE SS ROBERT CORYNDON?
In the year Uganda got Independence, the country experienced great flood which caused major destruction of the harbor, devastating Port Butiaba’s thriving marine industry.
The SS Robert Coryndon and several others docked at Butiaba Port on account of the flood, Juliet Gafabusa recalls that many people got stranded as it became difficult to travel to Congo and West Nile via the lake route.
‘’It became hard to move the steamer’s body, it remained until a time when the East African Railways and Harbours Corporation decided to put it for sale’’ Gafabusa told www.ugreports.com.
Interestingly, the same flood that brought down the steamship is credited with the formation of a second falls on Albert (white) Nile which was named after Uhuru falls close to Murchison Falls. Many people including the then Minister for public service Henry Kajura tried to resurrect the steamship but in vain. However, the dead-looking ship continued to attract the attention of tourists and fortune hunters.
Coryndon remained a decaying relic on the shore for over 30 years. In 1967 East African Railways and Harbors put out a tender to sale off the steamship, and other smaller vessels based at Butiaba Port.
The then Indian business man Akberali Al-libhai dream of reviving the Coryndon in 1967 short lived as the then President Amin Dada suddenly ordered all Asians to leave the country within 90 days in 1975, and that’s how the glory of SS Robert Coryndon faded, and there is no hope of reviving the steamship since the remains are no more.