When the fated MV Bukoba capsized and sunk into the depth of Lake Victoria on May 21, 1996 the ship went down with many secrets in the persons of the over 1000 passengers that went down with the vessel.
It later emerged that Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, the former head of al-Qaeda’s African presence, drowned with the ill-fated ship.
The ship was sailing from Bukoba heading for Mwanza and after an all-night voyage, it capsized just before docking at the latter’s port.
Until now nobody knows where Al-Banshiri, if he was indeed on the ship, was doing aboard the vessel.
Al-Banshiri was Al-Qaeda’s second in command of the whole organization, below the ring leader, Osama bin Laden.
Which according to observers, he should have been quite wealth enough to afford better means of transport.
With 17 years in service, MV Bukoba, a public vessel was already ‘old,’ by marine standards and being extremely overloaded it shouldn’t have been one’s idea of ideal travel.
The Al-Qaeda personnel terrorist is believed to have been mostly based in Nairobi, Kenya, as a car agent, importing vehicles from United Arab Emirates into East Africa.
Due to nature of his trade, with arms dealing sandwiched in-between, Al-Banshiri was cris-crossing between Kenya and Tanzania under different names, including ‘Karim,’ ‘Jalal’ and ‘Adel Habib.’
He married a Kenyan lady, used Dutch passport, or maybe forged the document as it was during the days before the current machine readable travel booklets.
MV Bukoba therefore sank while sailing on Lake Victoria On May 21, 1996.
Built in 1979, the vessel operated under the Tanzania Railways Corporation.
The TRC Marine Division’s Ships manifest for MV Bukoba’s final voyage showed 443 passengers in the first and second class cabins.
However the cheaper third class hall had no manifest. So thousands of people were reportedly crammed into the hull.
There were speculations that a vehicle transporting wads of bank notes was also on board, but this was later refuted
In 1996 Tanzania had no public internet. There were very few mobile phones networked through analogue service supplied by a company known as ‘Mobitel.’
The ship had capacity for 850 tons of cargo and 430 passengers.
Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, must have been in any of the first two classes thus the easy identification.
The former second in command of Al Qaeda, died in the maritime accident.
MV Bukoba was commissioned to serve regular routine journey between Bukoba and Mwanza via Kemondo Bay, return trips.
On the day of disaster it capsized and sunk less than ten kilometres before making Port in the city of Mwanza, killing an estimated 1,000 passengers.
Criminal charges were brought against nine Tanzania Railway Corporation officials, including the captain of the Bukoba and the manager of TRC’s Marine Division.