Hundreds of people are missing after a ferry capsized and sank on Lake Victoria in east Africa on Thursday afternoon. The death toll, which doubled to 86 on Friday morning, is expected to rise further as search and rescue operations continue, said John ...and more »
Hundreds of people are missing after a ferry capsized and sank on Lake Victoria in east Africa on Thursday afternoon.
The death toll, which doubled to 86 on Friday morning, is expected to rise further as search and rescue operations continue, said John Mongella, commissioner for the Mwanza region in northern Tanzania.
Initial estimates suggested that the ferry, the MV Nyerere, was carrying more than 300 people when it went down just a short distance from the dock on Ukerewe, Lake Victoria’s biggest island.
At least 37 people had been brought to safety by Thursday evening, before rescue teams called off their mission overnight. Mongella said some of the survivors were in “a very bad condition”.
mapGeorge Nyamaha, the head of Ukerewe district council, which governs the island, said there were more than a hundred passengers on board when the ferry sank.
The precise number of passengers on the ferry is unclear since the person selling tickets had also drowned and the machine recording sales has not been found.
Others have suggested there were several hundred people, including many children, on the ferry. It was very crowded because it was a market day.
The tragedy appears to have occurred as the ferry docked.
“I have not heard from either my father or my younger brother who were on the ferry,” said Domina Maua, who was among those seeking information about loved ones at the dockside. “They had gone to the market in Bugolora to buy a school uniform and other supplies for the new school term.”
Davita Ngenda, an elderly woman in Ukara, had already received bad news. “My son is among the bodies recovered,” she said, weeping. “He had gone with his wife but she has not been found yet. My God, what did I do to deserve this?”
Sebastian John, a teacher, said such tragedies had become part of life for those living on the lake.
“Since my birth, people have gone to their deaths on this lake, but what are we to do? We did not choose to be born here, we have nowhere to go,” he said.
Tanzania’s electrical, mechanical and services agency, which is responsible for ferry services, said it was unknown how many passengers were aboard the MV Nyerere.
The ageing ferry, whose hull and propellers were all that remained visible after it overturned, was also carrying cargo, including sacks of maize, bananas and cement, when it capsized around 50 metres (55 yards) from Ukara dock.
The cause of the accident was not immediately clear, but overloading is frequently to blame for such incidents.
President John Magufuli was “deeply saddened” by the disaster and called on Tanzanians to “stay calm during these difficult times,” according to spokesman Gerson Msigwa.
The country’s opposition, however, accused the government of “negligence”.
“We have often raised concerns about the poor condition of this ferry, but the government turned a deaf ear. We have repeatedly denounced this negligence,” said John Mnyika, deputy secretary general of Chadema, the main opposition party.
Mnyika said overloading was “another failure of the authorities” and criticised “inadequate relief efforts as well as delays” in the rescue operation.
With a surface area of 70,000 square kilometres (27,000 square miles), oval-shaped Lake Victoria is roughly the size of Ireland and is shared by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.
Capsizes are not uncommon on the massive lake and the number of fatalities is often high due to a shortage of life jackets and the fact that many people in the region cannot swim.
The deadliest such accident in recent decades was in May 1996, when around 800 people died after their ferry sank on the way to Mwanza in Tanzania.
Waters in the lake can be rough and boats are frequently poorly maintained, while ferry operators often fail to record the number of passengers on board.
Around 20 people were killed in December 2016 when their boat overturned in Lake Victoria as it was carrying passengers to Uganda’s mainland for Christmas holidays.
And in March 2012, only two survivors were found after a boat believed to be carrying around 60 people capsized on the lake in Uganda.