x

Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Dozens feared drowned as Ugandan boat sinks in Lake Victoria

Bad weather and overloading blamed for latest tragedy on Africa's largest lake

Rescuers search for passengers from a pleasure a boat that capsized in Lake Victoria off Uganda's Mukono district on November 25, 2018. Reuters
Rescuers search for passengers from a pleasure a boat that capsized in Lake Victoria off Uganda's Mukono district on November 25, 2018. Reuters

Twenty-two people have died and dozens are feared drowned after a pleasure boat sank on Lake Victoria, Ugandan police said Sunday.

The vessel carrying close to 100 revellers sank during bad weather on Saturday in the latest deadly incident to affect passenger boats on Africa's largest lake.

"Twenty-two bodies have been recovered and 26 people rescued," said Asuman Mugenyi, director of operations for the Uganda police. "According to one of the survivors there were more than 90 people on board."

The boat sank a short distance from the shore off Mutima in Mukono District, close to the capital Kampala.

Mr Mugenyi said overloading and bad weather were probably to blame.

"We expect [the number of passengers] is beyond the capacity of the boat. It was overloaded and unfortunately people were drunk," Mr Mugenyi said. "We suspect the mechanical condition of the boat and the weather contributed to the sinking."

"A big storm hit," said local government official Richard Kikongo. "It can be fine on land but bad weather on the lake."

Mr Kikongo said first responders were among the victims. "Fishermen on two small boats could see that the boat was sinking and went to help. People tried to jump onto the boats but they were too many and those sunk. The rescuers died too," he said.

Nearby residents said the vessel was hired out for parties every weekend and often overloaded.

The Mutima Country Haven resort had been converted to a triage centre and morgue on Sunday morning where police were collecting the swollen bodies of victims

Police spokesman Emilian Kayima said rescue efforts were continuing.

Lake Victoria is the site of many boat disasters. In September, hundreds died when the MV Nyerere passenger ferry sank on the Tanzanian side of Lake Victoria.

With a surface area of 70,000 square kilometres, Lake Victoria is roughly the size of Ireland and is shared by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.

It is not uncommon for ferries to capsize on the lake and the number of fatalities is often high because of a shortage of life jackets and the fact that many local people cannot swim.

In 1966, more than 800 people lost their lives on Lake Victoria when the MV Bukoba sank off the mainland town of Mwanza, according to the Red Cross.