Tanzania's government Friday declared four days of mourning after more than 130 people were killed in a ferry accident on Lake Victoria. Search teams spent a second day pulling bodies from the MV Nyerere, which capsized Thursday amid speculation it was overcrowded.
Regional commissioner John Mongella said he would not "speculate" on how many people were aboard the MV Nyerere, but it is not uncommon for watercraft that ply the region's vast lakes to carry hundreds of passengers at a time. Local media say the MV Nyerere may have been carrying 200 passengers when it capsized. Mongella said that at least 40 people were rescued and that some of those individuals were in "very bad condition."
Tanzania's chief secretary, John Kijazi, told reporters the ferry had a capacity of 101 passengers. Kijazi said that he ordered an investigation into the incident and that charges would be filed against those responsible.
Tanzania's state radio reported passengers boarded the ferry at Bugolora, a town on Ukerewe Island, and were en route to Ukara Island when the vessel capsized.
The cause of the sinking has not been determined, but overcrowding often has been faulted in previous cases.
In 1996, according to Tanzanian government records, around 800 people were killed when the MV Bukoba capsized on Lake Victoria.
In 2011, hundreds of people were confirmed dead when the MV Spice Islander I sank off the coast of the archipelago of Zanzibar.
Joseph Mkundi, a member of Parliament representing the district where the incident occurred, said on a VOA Swahili radio call-in show Friday that he had cautioned the government during July budget discussions that the ferry was in poor shape.
Mkundi said that, among other things, he had asked authorities to increase the frequency of ferry trips to ease congestion.
Mbaki Farki, a rescue diver in Tanzania who participated in the 2011 MV Spice Islander I effort, told VOA's Swahili service that the ferry fleet on Lake Victoria lacks adequate safety precautions.
Ferries are supposed to have life jackets and ring-shaped life preservers, but the fleet has insufficient equipment, Farki said. He added that the vessels' operators also lack plans for aiding people with disabilities, among the most vulnerable in such incidents.
"I am asking the government to prepare rescue teams in Tanzania because we have the marines, police and navy," Farki said. "We need to have rescue teams everywhere so that we can deal with these kinds of tragedies. In Tanzania, we look for help and rescue teams only when tragedy strikes."
'A lesson learned'
The Tanzanian Red Cross Society has been working on rescue and recovery. Godfrida Jola, a spokeswoman, told VOA that the organization had helped rescue 35 people but also was trying to deliver body bags for the dead.
Many of the drowning victims did not how to swim, Jola said, describing it as a widespread problem that the Red Cross would address to prevent further tragedy – especially in waterfront communities.
"At Red Cross, we have taken it as a lesson learned – and on our program we are going to work together with those communities to prepare them … so that they can be able to swim," Jola said.
Charles Misango lost 11 members of his family when the MV Nyerere capsized, he told VOA's Swahili service. He challenged President John Magufuli's government to accept responsibility for the disaster.
A spokesman for the president said Magufuli was "deeply saddened" by the tragedy and urged citizens to "stay calm during these difficult times."
John Mnyika, of the main opposition party Chadema, accused the government of dereliction. "We have often raised concerns about the poor condition of this ferry, but the government turned a deaf ear," he said. "We have repeatedly denounced this negligence."
VOA Swahili Service's Sunday Shomari and Idd Ligongo contributed to this report.