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Mv Nyerere tragedy: Death toll rises to over 100 as search continues

Friday September 21 2018

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Tanzania is in mourning after a ferry christened MV Nyerere sank in Lake Victoria on Thursday with hundreds of passengers on board.

The vessel went down near Ukara Island in the southeast of Africa's largest lake and world’s second largest fresh water lake.

This is what the Nation knows about Tanzania's latest maritime tragedy so far:

  • The journey

    — The ill-fated vessel was travelling from Bugorora Island to Ukara Island near Mwanza, Tanzania’s second largest city.

    — The Nation Correspondent in Mwanza reports that Mv Nyerere had done brisk business because it was auction day in Bugorora and passengers were aplenty.

    — It is not clear how many people were on board when the ferry left the island because the ticketing officer was among those who perished in the afternoon disaster.

    — By Friday morning, the machine recording the data and the ticketing officer's records had not been traced as search teams gave priority to finding survivors and bodies.

    The disaster: Mv Nyerere overturned. PHOTO |
    The disaster: Mv Nyerere overturned. PHOTO | COURTESY

    — However, credible sources told the Nation that the vessel with 100-pasenger capacity ended up ferrying at least 300 people, the majority traders.

    — "There were more than a hundred passengers on board when the ferry sank. It is feared that a significant number have lost their lives," said George Nyamaha, head of Ukerewe District Council.

    — Besides people, the ferry was spoilt for choice on which cargo to carry and, like passengers, it ended up ferrying more than its capacity.

    — Among the cargo were bags of cement and sacks of maize, stock that some of the traders had bought in Bugorora.

    — The ferry, with a 25-tonne cargo capacity and space for three small vehicles, also left with a lorry loaded with cereals.

    — The vessel took off well although sources say the weather was quite turbulent and lake waters were rough.

    — There was no incident reported to the operator, Tanzania's Electrical and Mechanical Services Agency (Temesa), in the course of journey, officials say.

  • The disaster
    — According to the operator, Temesa, the vessel toppled over at 2.05pm, some 50 metres away from the dock at Ukara Island, Ukuwere District.

    — The ferry overturned and trapped hundreds of its passenger under water, dashing hopes of survival.

    — The exact cause of the capsize is not known but sources say it had something to do with distribution of the human cargo.

    — BBC reports that “it is thought the overloaded vessel toppled over when crowds on board moved to one side as it docked”.

  • What caused it?
    — Investigations into the cause of the capsize are yet to start proper as authorities battle to save lives and retrieve bodies.

    — However, phone interviews with multiple credible sources who wished not to be named due to sensitivity of the matter point to a familiar script in Tanzania’s rich history maritime disasters: overloading and negligence.

    Locals joined the military and police in the
    Locals joined the military and police in the search and rescue. PHOTO | COURTESY

    — The ferry was carrying more people and cargo than it should, the sources told the Nation.

    — Some also cited bad weather after Tanzanian authorities ruled out the possibility of mechanical problems as the cause of the disaster.

    — The operator, Temesa, on Thursday said MV Nyerere had recently undergone heavy maintenance including the change of two of its engines.

  • Death toll
    — By 2pm Friday the official toll stood at 100.

    — This is after 56 more bodies were pulled out of the wreckage on Friday. The other 44 bodies were retrieved on Thursday evening.

    — However, Reuters and BBC say the death could be more than 200 because of the hundreds who were on board, only 37 had been rescued, the majority in critical conditions, when the search was called off on Thursday.

    — The bodies are being preserved at Bwisya mortuary, some 300 metres from the scene of the tragedy.

  • Search and rescue
    — The search was being led by the Tanzanian Navy assisted by small boats operated by private companies and individuals.

    — It was called off a few minutes past 11pm due to poor visibility.

    — The mission was called off as rescue teams waited for a ship to arrive from Mwanza.

    Military and locals carry bodies from the
    Military and locals carry bodies from the capsized ferry on September 20, 2018. PHOTO | COURTESY

    — The mission was scheduled to resume on Friday at dawn.

  • Past tragedies
    — Tanzania is not new to ferry disasters, with overcrowding and negligence always being cited for the tragedies.

    — In 2012, a ferry sank in the Indian Ocean in Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous archipelago, killing 145 people on board.

    — A year before, more than 200 people lost their lives on the same island when another vessel overturned.

    Search and rescue set to resume today. PHOTO |
    Search and rescue set to resume today. PHOTO | COURTESY

    — However, the worst disaster struck in 1996 when MV Bukoba sank in Lake Victoria killing 800 people.