Overloading blamed for Tanzanian ferry mishap as death toll crosses 170

The ageing ferry MV Nyerere that sank in Lake Victoria on Thursday with scores of passengers was overloaded, Tanzanian officials said as rescue work resumed on Saturday.

The death toll rose to 170 with 24 more bodies recovered earlier in the day, Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation reported.

While the ferry travelling between the islands of Ukara and Ukerewe has the carrying capacity of only 101 people and 25 tonnes of cargo, it was crammed with at least 300 passengers returning with excess goods from a busy market on Thursday, they said.

The boat sank before it was docked. Some 40 survivors managed to swim ashore or were rescued. The rest of the passengers are missing or dead.

Fishermen and other witnesses put the death toll around 200 as they feared more bodies may be trapped in the overturned ferry.

Families of missing passengers anxiously waited on the shore as rescue operation resumed on Saturday. The death toll is likely to rise as security forces and volunteers began hauling more bodies into rescue boats.

Tanzania’s president John Magufuli called the boat tragedy a national disaster, ordered the arrest of the ferry operator and declared four days of mourning. The ferry captain has already been arrested for leaving the boat in untrained hands. Investigators are looking for others responsible for the boat accident.

Several African leaders, UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed shock and sorrow over the loss of lives.

Tanzanian boats are accident-prone as they often carry hundreds of passengers and tonnes of cargo beyond the capacity. They overturn due to shift in weight when passengers rush to disembark.

Lake Victoria surrounded by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, and Indian Ocean, bordering Tanzania, had witnessed several accidents.

The worst accident was in 1996 when more than 800 people died after a passenger and cargo ferry MV Bukoba sank on Lake Victoria.

In 2011, 192 people died when an overloaded ferry sank between Dar-es Salaam and Zanzibar. In 2012, 145 people died when a packed ferry sank en route to Zanzibar. In 2013, more than 70 people died when another ferry sank near Chumbe Island, an islet near Zanzibar.