Sunday 26 May 2019

Death toll rises to 136 as packed ferry sinks

Rescuers retrieve a body from Lake Victoria. Photo: AP
Rescuers retrieve a body from Lake Victoria. Photo: AP

Michael Silke

At least 136 people have died after a passenger ferry capsized on Lake Victoria.

It is believed the ferry was carrying more than 300 people despite the vessel only having capacity for 100.

The ferry MV Nyerere rolled over close to the pier on Ukara Island on Africa's largest lake when passengers rushed to one side to disembark as it approached the dock.

Tanzania's police chief Simon Sirro said yesterday that at least 136 bodies have been retrieved and scores more were still feared missing as rescuers searched for survivors after the disaster. Thirty-seven people were reported to have been rescued from the lake.

Witnesses reported that more than 200 people had boarded the ferry at Bugolora, a town on the larger Ukerewe Island, where it was market day. Locals said the vessel was usually packed with people and goods.

"I have not heard from either my father or my younger brother who were on the ferry. They had gone to the market in Bugolora to buy a school uniform and other supplies for the new school term," said Domina Maua, who was among those seeking information about loved ones.

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.

It remains unclear how many people are still missing. Tanzania's Electrical, Mechanical and Services Agency, which is responsible for ferries, said it was unknown how many passengers were aboard.

Its hull and propellers were all that remained visible after it overturned. The Nyrere was also carrying cargo, including sacks of maize, bananas and cement, when it capsized around 50m 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".

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.

Irish Independent

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