At least 136 dead after ferry tragedy on Lake Victoria, but officials fear toll could pass 200

The MV Nyerere capsized while carrying an unknown number of passengers, with officials suspecting it was overloaded

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 September, 2018, 9:41am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 September, 2018, 9:40pm

Tanzanian rescuers scrambled on Friday to find scores of people feared drowned after a ferry capsized in Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, killing at least 136 people.

The MV Nyerere may have been carrying as many as 200 passengers – double the ferry’s capacity – when it capsized near the pier on Ukara Island on Thursday, according to reports on state media.

Witnesses said the ferry capsized when passengers rushed to one side to disembark as it approached the dock.

Mwanza governor John Mongella told state television there were 40 survivors.

“Operations are continuing,” he said, as police and army divers resumed their search on Friday morning.

Quoting witnesses, the state broadcaster said more than 200 people boarded the ferry at Bugolora, a town on the larger Ukerewe Island, where it was market day when locals said the vessel was commonly 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?”

Tanzania’s Electrical, Mechanical and Services Agency, which runs the ferry services, said it was unknown how many passengers were on the boat.

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The ageing ferry was also carrying cargo, including sacks of maize, bananas and cement, when it capsized around 50 metres (55 yards) from Ukara dock.

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.

But opposition politicians 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.

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Mnyika also said there were “delays” in the rescue operation.

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.

Additional reporting by Reuters