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Tanzanian Ferry Capsizes, Killing at Least 126

NAIROBI, Kenya — The death toll from the capsizing of a Tanzanian ferry on Lake Victoria had climbed to at least 126 people on Friday, the authorities said, as search and rescue workers continued to look for survivors and recover the bodies of the dead.

Exactly how many passengers were packed on board the ferry, the MV Nyerere, remains unclear, as the authorities fear that the person who had handled ticketing was among those who drowned. But some estimates put the number of passengers on the boat when it overturned on Thursday at more than 300, according to Reuters.

Officials say the ferry appears to have been overloaded, with far more passengers than was advisable. One local official said the ferry’s capacity was 100 passengers.

By late afternoon Friday, dozens of survivors and at least 126 bodies had been pulled from the water, said Isack Kamwelwe, Tanzania’s minister for communication, transport and infrastructure. He said that 36 of the dead had been identified.

The numbers mounted steadily as the day went on, and officials cautioned that it could continue to rise.

The inspector general of the Tanzanian police, Simon Sirro, said a special investigation into the accident would be conducted.

Mr. Kamwelwe said the burial of the victims would be a national event, with the country’s government leaders participating.

The ferry, managed by Tanzania’s Electrical, Mechanical and Electronics Services Agency, had been traveling between two islands — Ukara and Ukerewe — when it capsized Thursday afternoon, according to local reports. The islands are on the southern, Tanzanian side of the lake, which is shared by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The ferry journey takes about an hour.

Thursday is a big market day on Ukerewe, and the MV Nyerere is typically more crowded on that day than some other weekdays, local residents said. Many of those on the boat on Thursday were returning home to the smaller Ukara Island after shopping on Ukerewe, residents said. As the ferry approached the shore around 2 p.m., many passengers appear to have rushed to the front of the boat, to get in position to disembark quickly.

The ferry was only 100 or 200 meters from shore, when “the balance of the boat was overwhelmed and it started to capsize,” said the commissioner for the local Mwanza region, John Mongella.

On the shore, dozens of people began to scream in horror and helplessness as they watched the ferry overturn. It was clear to those on shore that many people were caught underneath.

One witness, Abdallah Mohammed, said that nearby fishing boats had converged on the ferry in an attempt to rescue as many people as they could.

“The ferry continued going down as people yelled for help,” Mr. Mohammed said.

Officials said that the ferry had an overall capacity of 100 people, 25 tons of cargo and three vehicles. A new engine was installed as recently as June, officials said.

Lake Victoria, where old ferries are often overloaded with passengers, has been the site of several maritime disasters, including the 1996 sinking of a Tanzanian ferry, the MV Bukoba. The death toll in that accident was at least several hundred, and some estimates put it over 1,000.

Orton Kiishweko contributed reporting from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Source: NYT > World

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