Number of dead from Tanzania’s ferry accident disaster hits 136

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Rescue workers are seen at the scene where a ferry overturned in Lake Victoria, Tanzania September 21, 2018, in this still image taken from video. Reuters TV/via REUTERS
Rescue workers are seen at the scene where a ferry overturned in Lake Victoria, Tanzania September 21, 2018, in this still image taken from video. Reuters TV/via REUTERS

The number of people dead from Tanzania’s ferry accident disaster has risen to at least 136, the country’s top police official said on Friday.

The ferry capsized on Thursday afternoon just a few metres from the dock on Ukerewe, the lake’s biggest island, which is part of Tanzania. Initial estimates suggested that the ferry was carrying more than 300 people.

While bodies were pulled from the water and many people were feared still missing, President John Magufuli urged calm in the East African country with a history of deadly maritime disasters.

The ferry MV Nyerere, with a capacity to hold 101 people, had been dangerously overloaded, the government’s Chief Secretary John Kijazi told reporters. He ordered an investigation and said those responsible will face charges.

At least 40 people had been rescued, he said. Dozens of security forces and volunteers wearing gloves and face masks resumed work at daybreak after suspending efforts overnight, hauling bodies into wooden boats.

Graphic shows approximate location of ferry accident in Lake Victoria.

“More than 200 people are feared dead,” based on accounts from fishermen and others nearby, because passengers had been returning from a busy market day, Tanzania Red Cross spokeswoman Godfrida Jola told The Associated Press. “But no one knows” just how many people were on board.

TEMESA Spokeswoman Theresia Mwami said so far they had not established the exact number of passengers who were on board and whether anyone had died.

Tanzanian ferries often carry hundreds of passengers and are overcrowded, and shifts in weight as passengers move to disembark can become deadly. Images from the scene showed the ferry’s exposed underside not far from shore.

The MV Nyerere, named for the former president who led the East African nation to independence, was traveling between the islands of Ukara and Ukerewe when it sank, according to the government agency in charge of servicing the vessels.

Worried residents on Friday waited for any word of survivors.

“We try to make calls to friends, relatives,” a local guide, Paschal Phares, told the AP. He recalled how crowded his trip on the aging ferry had been last month: “Most of us were standing up. It was full.”

Accidents are often reported on the large freshwater lake surrounded by Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Some of the deadliest have occurred in Tanzania, where passenger boats are often said to be old and in poor condition.

In 1996, more than 800 people died when passenger and cargo ferry MV Bukoba sank on Lake Victoria.

Nearly 200 people died in 2011 when the MV Spice Islander I sank off Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coast near Zanzibar.

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