What was meant to be a festive season for some tourists and fun-lovers at the Likoma Festival during the Easter weekend ended up in disappointment and regret.
According to an itinerary for the event, the MV Ilala was scheduled to depart for Likoma Island at 5am on Friday for a festival in Likoma at around 10am.
But to the disappointment of patrons, the country’s biggest and oldest ship—solely booked for the event—arrived in Nkhata Bay at 11.30am from Monkey Bay after the patrons were left stranded at the jetty without any official communication on the delay by the ship.
Those who travelled from Lilongwe had to brave the rains to sleep at the veranda of offices at the jetty after arriving at around 2am in Nkhata Bay—hoping the ship would arrive at 4am to leave an hour later.
Things were even worse at daybreak, when the ship was nowhere in sight.
“As a woman I need to take a bath every morning. But up to now I have not bathed,” complained Tapiwa Bokosi from Lilongwe.
The ship left Nkhata Bay at 1.20pm and arrived in Likoma at 6.30pm, a thing that made the three-day event lose out 24 hours without activities.
As if that was not enough, the organisers were accused further of duping the patrons.
One of the patrons at the festival who opted for anonymity, said she suffered abuse in the communal bus she boarded from Blantyre.
“I bought an executive ticket because I belong to that class. To mix me with everybody else was not fair, and it means they cheated me” she lamented.
A lawyer in the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs who also asked for anonymity for fear of associating his name with the festival said his two lawyer friends returned to Lilongwe after being frustrated in Nkhata Bay.
“We are contemplating of complaining to the Competition and Fair Trading Commission of Malawi [CFTC] because this is unfair treatment,” he said.
Likoma Festival chairperson Thoko Kamangira accepted blame on the issue of those who bought executive coach tickets.
He said arrangements for the executive coaches were done but the problem was that they did not pay on time such that when they wanted to pay the coaches had already been released.
He said on MV Chilembwe, Malawi Shipping Company (MSC) could not release both ships for one event.
“We learnt about this in last minute. It was hard to communicate to everybody. There is, however, an arrangement that we may reimburse the money,” he said, while disclosing that the victims are close to 30 of the 200 people who bought tickets.
But on the delay by Ilala, Kamangira blamed MSC, saying: “They gave us a lot of excuses. One of it was that fuel was released late which affected the ship’s departure time.”
MSC spokesperson Austin Msowoya could not be reached on his mobile line, but MV Ilala captain Lameck Mponda confirmed departing late from Monkey Bay.
“Management informed us about the trip in the morning of Thursday. As you might be aware, Ilala was under maintenance because it had a fault. So, it meant we needed to contact inspectors to declare it fit. That process took us the whole day such that we left Monkey Bay at 6pm,” he said.