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Death toll in Lake Victoria ferry accident reaches 225

A woman cries beside the body of her sister, a victim of the MV Nyerere passenger ferry, as she awaits transportation for burial on Ukara Island, Tanzania on Saturday, Sept. 22 (AFP PHOTO)

MWANZA – The number of people who drowned in the Thursday Tanzania ferry accident has reached 225 with more bodies still being recovered.

MV Nyerere, which was plying between Bugorara and Ukala islands in Tanzania, capsized and sank in Lake Victoria on Thursday.

Mwanza Regional Commissioner John Mongella on Sunday said seven more bodies have been recovered from the MV Nyerere ferry tragedy in Lake Victoria, bringing the death toll to 225 but said the number will likely go up as the search for more bodies and/or survivors continues.

Tanzania Transport minister Isaack Kamwelwe confirmed the deaths, adding that rescue efforts are underway.

Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa is on Sunday expected to arrive at Bwisya Village, Ukara Island, Ukerewe District to attend the burial of the dead.

The Tanzania Electrical, Mechanical and Electronics Services Agency (TEMESA) had on Thursday said over 40 people had been rescued from the water. TEMESA said an operation was underway to rescue more people.

The ferry has a capacity of 100 people but Tanzanian newspaper The Citizen quotes a witness saying that it was overloaded at the time of the incident. It is not clear how many people were on the ferry at the time the incident occurred.

“We pray to God to give us hope in such an accident,” Regional Commissioner Adam Malima told reporters. “We pray to God to give us hope that there has not been a high death toll.”

TEMESA Spokeswoman Theresia Mwami is quoted by Reuters as saying that the ferry did not have any mechanical problems because TEMESA had carried out heavy maintenance on it in recent months including overhauling two engines.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli on Friday September 21 ordered the arrest of the captain of the ferry, MV Nyerere as the death toll rises to 225 (FILE PHOTO)

On Friday evening, President John Magufuli said that the captain of MV Nyerere ferry wasn’t in it when it capsized in Lake Victoria on Thursday.

“The captain is already police custody. I have also ordered that all those responsible for the operations of the MV Nyerere vessel be arrested for questioning,” President Magufuli said in a televised address from the Dar es Salaam State House.

“Reports I received show that the cargo weighed far more than the 25 tonnes allowed. There were tonnes of maize, crates of beer and building materials. Passengers also had big pieces of luggage as they were going to an open market,” he said.

The president announced four days of mourning from Friday and said the national flag will fly half-mast.

Rescue workers handle the body of one of over the 220 people that perished when ferry MV Nyerere capsized (FILE PHOTO)

Accidents are common on Africa’s largest lake, Victoria, where boats often depart overcrowded. In 2012, at least 145 people died in a ferry disaster in the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean, on a vessel that was overcrowded.

More than 800 people died in 1996 when the MV Bukoba capsized. It was one of the worst maritime disasters of the last century.

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