‘Usizame’ which translated from the local Kiswahili language means ‘Don’t drown’ is an SMS application that enables the country’s ferry passengers to confirm and ensure that the vessel they are set to board on is indeed safe for travel. This service will soon be available to Tanzanians.
The country is bordered on the east by the Indian Ocean and water transport is common via ferries between towns and regions. Increasing reports of accidents during water transport has inspired Rachel Hamada and her team to come up with an idea to prevent such accidents as much as possible.
According to Rachel Hamada, “There had been two major ferry accidents in one year, first the sinking of the Spice Islander in September 2011 and then the Skagit in July 2012, and the result was many hundreds of deaths and grieving families”.
Rachael and her team are expected to begin testing the prototype system from today and systematically roll out the product across a series of ferries travelling between Unguja, Pemba and Dar Es Salaam. “We decided that enough was enough – and if safety standards were not being adhered to for passengers, that we would help passengers to improve safety standards from the ground up,” adds Rachael.
The prototype system can receive SMS messages, allow registration via SMS, and receive passenger check-ins and produce auto responses. Once first-stage testing is complete, details of the public trial are planned to be announced.
The SMS application is preferred in Tanzania perhaps because the country has low internet penetration. On this Rachael said, “The idea is to make use of the high level of mobile phone penetration in Zanzibar and Tanzania to allow people to co-operate to improve their own safety – we will collate information within our system and, if necessary, feed it back to passengers in a way that should help them make informed choices about the risks they are taking.”
The application is also configured to enable passengers check into their ferry with their name through a free SMS. The application will also establish a record of exactly who is, and how many passengers are, on each boat. It will also collect information and warn passengers in the case of overloading or unsafe weather conditions. Passengers will also be able to report and verify any emergency situation and thus notify family, friends and authorities to ensure rapid response.