MUKONO, UGANDA - Ugandan Marine security authorities continue to search for bodies after a party boat in poor mechanical condition capsized with 120 people on board Saturday in Lake Victoria. Police say 31 bodies have been recovered with more than 70 people missing and feared dead.
What started out as a fun boat ride turned tragic when an unlicensed, uninsured and unregistered vessel capsized Saturday in Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest body of water.
Uganda Police Director for Operations Asumani Mugenyi says all marine components of the Uganda police and army have been deployed. He says they are not sure when all the victims' bodies will be recovered.
“Based on the witnesses, that many of them could be trapped in the wreckage. And we thought we would have the capacity to overturn the wreckage," he said. "We have consulted Ministry of Works and they say the water here is shallow. The ship that is available cannot operate at this place.”
There have been many calls for stricter safety rules, but Uganda’s marine regulations are based on a law that was enacted in 1939. The law says any vessel owner who breaches the conditions of a license, including overloading, chooses between paying a fine of less than a dollar or spending 12 months in jail.
The vessel's owner and his wife both died in the accident.
Boat operators at Mutima beach in Mukono explain what led to the latest tragedy.
“The passengers came and were told the vessel had mechanical problems, but they insisted, and paid more money. But the vessel had a leak and started sucking in water. No one noticed until the boat capsized,” said boat operator Adam Namudala.
It is a painful moment for family members of the passengers waiting for word of their loved ones. Sebuma Alex Kaluwanga lost his older brother, whose body has not been found.
“So, we are here waiting, because of the situation, we are waiting to see what is coming forth, but we have not seen him," he said. "So we pray the police will continue the fight to retrieve bodies so our brother may also be found. We just need to know that we too can see his body.”
Uganda President Yoweri Museveni has called for the registration of all motorized boats in the country to prevent further accidents.