Survivor pulled from capsized Tanzanian ferry as death toll reaches 218

VIDEO: REUTERS
Investigators work on the capsized ferry MV Nyerere which killed 131 people in Lake Victoria, Tanzania, on Sept 21, 2018.
Investigators work on the capsized ferry MV Nyerere which killed 131 people in Lake Victoria, Tanzania, on Sept 21, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

NAIROBI (REUTERS) - Divers on Saturday (Sept 22) rescued a man from the wreck of an overcrowded Tanzanian ferry that capsized on Lake Victoria on Thursday, killing more than 200 people.

Bodies continued to float to the surface around the vessel, which initial estimates suggested was carrying more than 300 people. State broadcaster TBC said the death toll had reached 218.

Four navy divers resumed their search inside the sunken MV Nyerere early on Saturday after hearing sounds that suggested signs of life.

They pulled one man out of the overturned ship and he was rushed to hospital, a Reuters witness said.

His condition was not immediately known.

On Friday, President John Magufuli ordered the arrest of those responsible for the sinking.

Dozens of relatives stood crying by the shoreline as they waited for information on their loved ones.

 
 

Coffins were lined up nearby awaiting bodies being pulled from the vessel, which lay belly up in the water just metres from the shoreline.

“The ferry overturned very fast and covered us,” survivor Charles Ngarima told Reuters. 

“I was lucky that I was able to swim under water not knowing where I was swimming to... while trying to swim to safety, I found a number of metal bars that cut my face and the back of my head.” 

Another survivor, Jennifer Idhoze, said the ferry had capsized because it was overloaded. 

“I was able to jump out of the ferry... That is how I survived,” she said.

Works, Transport and Communication Minister Isack Kamwelwe said the government was sending special equipment to aid the rescue effort.

“This equipment will increase efficiency in the rescue operation and we will continue with the search until we are satisfied that we have rescued everyone,” he told Reuters.

The ferry sank on Thursday evening just a few metres from the dock on Ukerewe, the lake’s biggest island.

The President has declared four days of national mourning and said the government would cover the funeral expenses of the victims.

Hopes are fading that more survivors might still be found.

State television cited witnesses reporting that more than 200 people had boarded the ferry at Bugolora, a town on the larger Ukerewe Island, where it was market day when locals said the vessel was usually 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?"

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.

OVERLOADING AND 'NEGLIGENCE'

Tanzania's Electrical, Mechanical and Services Agency, which is responsible for ferry services, said it was unknown how many passengers were aboard the MV Nyerere.

The ageing ferry, whose hull and propellers were all that remained visible after it overturned, was also carrying cargo, including sacks of maize, bananas and cement, when it capsized around 50m from Ukara dock.

The cause of the accident was not immediately clear, but overloading is frequently to blame for such incidents.

The country's opposition has 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.

Mnyika said overloading was "another failure of the authorities" and criticised "inadequate relief efforts as well as delays" in the rescue operation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Uganda and Kenya offered their condolences, while Pope Francis in a statement expressed "the greatest solidarity with those who have been bereaved" by the disaster.

With a surface area of 70,000 sq km, oval-shaped Lake Victoria is roughly the size of Ireland and is shared by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.

Capsizes are not uncommon in the massive lake, and the number of fatalities is often high due to a shortage of life jackets and the fact that many people in the region cannot swim.

The deadliest such accident in recent decades was in May 1996, when around 800 people died after their ferry sank on the way to Mwanza in Tanzania.