Over 130 dead, dozens miss­ing af­ter ferry cap­sizes off Mwanza

Nav­i­gat­ing Lake Vic­to­ria has be­come a mat­ter of trial and er­ror, with an­cient nav­i­ga­tion routes dat­ing back to the 19th cen­tury

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More than 130 peo­ple died and more than 100 oth­ers were miss­ing on Fri­day, af­ter a ferry trav­el­ling be­tween Bu­golora and Ukara Is­land in Lake Vic­to­ria near Mwanza sank on Thurs­day af­ter­noon.

The ill-fated ferry, MV Ny­erere, sank at around 2pm, two hours af­ter leav­ing Bu­golora.

Of­fi­cials blamed the ac­ci­dent on over­load­ing, with Uk­erewe District Com­mis­sioner Cor­nel Magembe say­ing there could have been as many as 400 pas­sen­gers on board the ferry, whose ca­pac­ity is 100 pas­sen­gers and 25 tonnes of cargo.

“There were about 400 pas­sen­gers on board. Some jumped out and were res­cued by lo­cal ca­noe op­er­a­tors,” said Mr Magembe.

Sur­vivors said there had been a truck loaded with maize and ce­ment on board.

It was hard for of­fi­cials to es­tab­lish the ex­act num­ber of pas­sen­gers aboard the ves­sel, as the of­fi­cial who was is­su­ing tick­ets is also miss­ing, and the ma­chine he was us­ing could not be traced by press time.

In­spec­tor-gen­eral of Po­lice Si­mon Sirro, who vis­ited the scene on Fri­day, said more than 130 peo­ple had been con­firmed dead. The death toll was ex­pected to rise as re­cov­ery op­er­a­tions con­tin­ued. Res­cuers sus­pended op­er­a­tions af­ter dark on Thurs­day, by which time some 44 bod­ies had been re­cov­ered. The rest were re­cov­ered on Fri­day by divers from the Tan­za­nia Peo­ple's De­fence Forces as­sisted by Red Cross and the po­lice.

The Tan­za­nia Elec­tri­cal, Me­chan­i­cal and Elec­tron­ics Ser­vices Agency (Temesa), the reg­u­la­tory body, said the cause of the ac­ci­dent was not im­me­di­ately clear, but it did not rule out over­load­ing.

Temesa spokesper­son There­sia Mwami said the ves­sel had re­cently been re­fur­bished, get­ting two new en­gines.

Of­fi­cial records show that MV Ny­erere was pur­chased in 2004 for Tsh191 mil­lion ($86,800). Af­ter a se­ries of me­chan­i­cal break­downs and com­plaints from the pub­lic, the two new en­gines were in­stalled.

Pres­i­dent John Magu­fuli through the di­rec­tor of pres­i­den­tial com­mu­ni­ca­tion Ger­son Msigwa, sent a mes­sage of con­do­lences to the fam­i­lies of the vic­tims and called for calm as res­cue op­er­a­tions con­tin­ued.

Prime Min­is­ter Kas­sim Ma­jaliwa on Fri­day called off his tour in Chemba district in Dodoma Re­gion to fly to Mwanza to as­sess the sit­u­a­tion.

Kenya’s Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta and op­po­si­tion leader Raila Odinga sent con­do­lence mes­sages to the Tan­za­ni­ans.

"On be­half of the peo­ple of Kenya, I ex­press our most sin­cere con­do­lences to my brother Pres­i­dent John Magu­fuli and our dear neigh­bour. No words can ad­e­quately ex­press our grief fol­low­ing this tragic ac­ci­dent. My heart goes out to those who have lost their lives and their fam­i­lies," Pres­i­dent Keny­atta said in a state­ment. “We, as your neigh­bour, are deeply heart­bro­ken by what hap­pened. Al­low me to ex­press our sol­i­dar­ity and sup­port for our brothers and sis­ters in Tan­za­nia... and to as­sure them that we will lend ev­ery needed sup­port."

Mr Odinga said on Twit­ter: "I mourn with the peo­ple of Tan­za­nia at this very dif­fi­cult mo­ment. May God grant peace and strength to the fam­i­lies, the care givers and the Tanzanian na­tion."

The tragedy brought into fo­cus the is­sue of safety in Lake Vic­to­ria, which claims thou­sands of lives an­nu­ally. Nav­i­gat­ing the lake has be­come a mat­ter of trial and er­ror, mar­itime ex­perts say, with an­cient nav­i­ga­tion routes dat­ing back to the 19th cen­tury, miss­ing course lights and clogged piers. The lack of equipped weather sta­tions also makes it dif­fi­cult to pre­dict weather pat­terns in or­der to take pre­cau­tions.

The sink­ing of Mv Ny­erere could likely be the sec­ond most dis­as­trous marine ac­ci­dent in the lake, af­ter the May 1996 Mv Bukoba tragedy that claimed more than 800 lives af­ter it sank just 30 min­utes be­fore reach­ing Mwanza port. Only 53 peo­ple sur­vived.

There could have been as nearly 400 pas­sen­gers on board the ferry, whose ca­pac­ity is 100 pas­sen­gers, and 25 tonnes of cargo.” Cor­nel Magembe, Uk­erewe District Com­mis­sioner

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