KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — The official death toll rose to 127 after a badly overcrowded ferry capsized on Lake Victoria, Tanzanian authorities said Friday, as a second day of rescue efforts raced the setting sun.
While bodies were pulled from the water and many people were feared still missing, President John Magufuli urged calm in the East African country with a history of deadly maritime disasters.
The ferry MV Nyerere, with a capacity to hold 101 people, had been dangerously overloaded, the government’s Chief Secretary John Kijazi told reporters. He ordered an investigation and said those responsible will face charges.
At least 40 people had been rescued, he said. Dozens of security forces and volunteers wearing gloves and face masks resumed work at daybreak after suspending efforts overnight, hauling bodies into wooden boats.
“More than 200 people are feared dead,” based on accounts from fishermen and others nearby, because passengers had been returning from a busy market day, Tanzania Red Cross spokeswoman Godfrida Jola told The Associated Press. “But no one knows” just how many people were on board.
Tanzanian ferries often carry hundreds of passengers and are overcrowded, and shifts in weight as passengers move to disembark can become deadly. Images from the scene showed the ferry’s exposed underside not far from shore.
Pope Francis and a number of African leaders expressed shock and sorrow.
“His Holiness Pope Francis expresses his heartfelt solidarity with those who mourn the loss of their loved ones and who fear for the lives of those still missing,” the condolence telegram said, according to the Vatican.
The MV Nyerere, named for the former president who led the East African nation to independence, was traveling between the islands of Ukara and Ukerewe when it sank, according to the government agency in charge of servicing the vessels.
Worried residents on Friday waited for any word of survivors.
“We try to make calls to friends, relatives,” a local guide, Paschal Phares, told the AP. He recalled how crowded his trip on the aging ferry had been last month: “Most of us were standing up. It was full.”
Accidents are often reported on the large freshwater lake surrounded by Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Some of the deadliest have occurred in Tanzania, where passenger boats are often said to be old and in poor condition.
In 1996, more than 800 people died when passenger and cargo ferry MV Bukoba sank on Lake Victoria.
Nearly 200 people died in 2011 when the MV Spice Islander I sank off Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coast near Zanzibar.
Associated Press writers Cara Anna in Johannesburg and Frances D’Emilio in Rome contributed.