22 March, 2022 Member article

InfraCo Africa invests in safe, affordable and solar-powered passenger ferries

Kisumu, Kenya, 15 March 2022 – ARE Member InfraCo Africa, part of the Private Infrastructure Development Group (PIDG), has signed a Shareholders’ Agreement with Globology Ltd, committing US$3.8m through its dedicated investment arm, to support the expansion of the company’s Waterbus passenger transport operations on Lake Victoria.

Waterbus is the first passenger-focused service to deliver scheduled ferry routes on the Lake, currently operating two 132-seater and one 80 seater safe, modern catamaran vessels for passengers and light cargo on two Kenyan routes. The company currently has one further ferry under construction. InfraCo Africa’s investment will support the construction of five new fifth-generation ferries over the next 24-36 months and will enable the company to finance upgrades to its existing boatyard located in Kisumu, Kenya. The new vessels will operate on additional routes in Kenya and on new routes in Tanzania and Uganda.

Shell Foundation, the UK-registered charity that works to enhance access to sustainable energy and transport for low-income communities, has provided Waterbus with a grant of US$800,000 to pilot retrofitting of a solar boost system to two of its vessels. If the expected reduction in fuel consumption of around 15% is achieved, solar boost systems will be fitted to the wider Waterbus fleet.

Globology Ltd Founder, Malcolm Ormiston, said “We are excited to have the opportunity to grow the reach of the WaterBus service and expand our journey to save lives and facilitate development of Africa’s transportation-challenged communities. InfraCo Africa are an exciting partner to work with in expanding the water transport infrastructure sector that’s typically been poorly served by development and investment groups in the region.”

Access to transport between Lake Victoria’s mainland and island communities is limited, with passengers largely reliant upon open wooden canoes with polluting two-stroke petrol outboard motors to reach key services and to transport their produce to markets. These unscheduled canoes are inherently unsafe, slow and lack shelter, so passengers are exposed to the elements and goods and fresh produce are vulnerable to spoilage. Violent, fast-moving storms can capsize open canoes which have few, if any, safety measures in place for their passengers. Several thousand people die every year on Lake Victoria alone.

Bertrand Ketchassi, Investment Manager at InfraCo Africa said“We are excited to work with Globology Ltd to grow its Waterbus marine transport offering on Lake Victoria. Together we will provide people with safe, reliable access to mainland and island markets and essential services, and we anticipate that developing these transport routes will boost the wider regional economy.” He continued, “We are particularly interested in the company’s plans, supported by grant funding from the Shell Foundation, to further reduce journey emissions by piloting the use of solar-powered propulsion on its vessels. InfraCo Africa brings marine transport expertise to the project from our Kalangala Infrastructure Services and East Africa Marine Transport initiatives elsewhere on the Lake, and we hope that these will provide opportunities for shared learning going forward.”

Wanji Nganga, Regional Manager – East Africa at Shell Foundation said: “Expanding affordable and reliable access to cleaner mobility solutions for goods and people is critical to socio-economic development for low-income populations. We have supported Waterbus since 2016 to serve isolated communities on Lake Victoria with a safer, more reliable, sustainable service. We are pleased to see the investment from InfraCo Africa, which is testament to the business model and technologies’ viability to scale and reach thousands more customers, and also very proud to continue supporting the vessels’ research and development with this new grant agreement.”

By mobilising investment to enable Waterbus to scale it’s offering, it is anticipated that the company will be well positioned to attract private sector investment and to use internal revenues to further scale its operations in the future.