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Lake Victoria Ferry Operator EarthWise to List on the Uganda Securities Exchange

In a bid to expand its services, EarthWise Ferries Uganda Limited, the managers of MV Amani, a passenger ferry service on Lake Victoria plans to take advantage of the recently launched Growth Enterprise Market Segment (GEMS) by the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE).

The GEMS was launched by the USE and approved by the Capital Markets Authority (CMA) to help small businesses raise money for expansion as it has less stringent capital requirements. It focuses on innovation and enterprise as a benchmark for companies to float shares on the bourse without much difficulty.

Mr. Robert T. Smith, the CEO of EarthWise says that the funds raised from the Initial Public Offer (IPO) on the USE as well as additional funding from partners in US will not only enable the company to venture into other routes but also enable it realize its long term goal of joining the freight business.

"We have acquired another vessel and it will be shipped in the next three weeks. We hope by the fourth quarter of the year it will be operational and we shall embark on the Mwanza route," said Smith adding, "The IPO will help us get funds to enable us embark on our long term goal of joining the freight business."

He added that this will be open to all investors and that it would be a great opportunity for Ugandans to own part of the company.

He was speaking to the East African Business Week in an exclusive interview during a boat ride organized by Earth Wise and African Renewal Ministries on Lake Victoria last week.

EarthWise is a 120 passenger Ferry currently plying the Kampala (Port Bell) Kalangala Islands route with plans to expand its operations to Mwanza and Kisumu in the near future.

The GEMS is expected to diversify traded shares at the bourse, giving investors a wide array of investment options.

USE launched the Alternative Investment Market segment (AIMS), a platform through which Small and Medium Enterprises could mobilise funds through the capital markets, about two years ago but the platform is yet to attract any listing.

Mr. Andrew Sisson, the Managing Director of EarthWise says that the ferry currently moves to and from Kalangala thrice a week (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) and that there are plans to increase it to six or seven times a week.

"We have seen that there is interest especially from partners like resort owners and so we hope to increase the frequency of travel from thrice a week to say six times. We plan to have in total 10 vessels servicing the various routes on Lake Victoria," Sisson said.

The company also plans to venture into freight business though infrastructure is largely poor.

Mr. Anthony Esenu, the Chairman Board of Directors EarthWise Uganda Limited says that the turnaround times would be reduced significantly if the necessary infrastructure was in place.

"If for instance one was to transport goods from Kenya to Rwanda, it would be cheaper and faster to put them on a ferry at Kisumu and then offload it at Musoma and then load them onto a train. This would reduce the transport costs and also the time taken to move these goods by the say road," Esenu said.

BY EMMA ONYANGO
The East African Business Week
25 June 2012

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