The death toll after a ferry capsized in Lake Victoria has risen to more than 170, a local deputy said in Saturday, as rescue workers also managed to pull another survivor from the vessel.
Earlier on Saturday, state-run TV station TBC had put the toll at 151, but Joseph Mkundi, member of parliament for the Ukerewe district, told AFP that over 170 people were now known to have died.
But even as hopes were fading of rescuing any more survivors on the third day of search efforts, workers found an engineer to be alive after he had managed to locate a pocket of air in the vessel.
According to Mkundi, the engineer shut himself into a “special room” with enough air to allow him to stay alive after the MV Nyerere capsized close to the pier on Ukara Island on Thursday.
This takes the number of people known to have survived to 41.
The reported figures combined mean that the ferry, which was built for 100 passengers according to state media, was carrying well over twice that number of people.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli on Friday ordered the arrest of the management of the ferry.
Witnesses reached by AFP said the ferry sank when passengers rushed to one side to disembark as it approached the dock. Others blamed the captain saying he had made a brusque manoeuvre.
In a speech broadcast on TBC 1 public television, Magufuli said “it appears clear that the ferry was overloaded”, adding that “negligence has cost us so many lives… children, mothers, students, old people”. “I ordered the arrest of all those involved in the management of the ferry.
The arrests have already begun,” he added.
The president declared four days of national mourning and said the government would cover the funeral expenses of the victims.
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.
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 50 metres (55 yards) 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 square kilometres (27,000 square miles), 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.