At least 44 people drowned when a ferry sank on Thursday in Tanzania’s Lake Victoria and government officials feared the final death toll could be more than 200.
Thirty-seven people were rescued after the MV Nyerere sank, Mwanza regional commissioner, John Mongella, told the Associated Press.
Initial estimates showed that the vessel was carrying more than 300 people, but Mongella said he could not speculate on the final death toll. “Right now our focus is on rescue,” he said.
Regional governor John Mongella said some of the survivors were in “a very bad condition”.
Ukerewe district commissioner, Col Lucas Magembe, told Reuters that the rescue mission to find survivors from the boat had been halted until dawn.
It went down in the afternoon just a few metres from the dock near Ukara Island in Ukerewe district, according to national ferry services operator Temesa.
George Nyamaha, the head of Ukerewe district council, of which the island is a part, said: “There were more than a hundred passengers on board when the ferry sank. It is feared that a significant number have lost their lives.”
However, it was hard to establish the precise number of passengers since the person dispensing tickets had also drowned with the machine recording the data lost.
“We pray to God to give us hope in such an accident,” regional commissioner Adam Malima told reporters. “We pray to God to give us hope that there has not been a high death toll.”
Temesa spokeswoman Theresia Mwami said the operator had carried out maintenance on the ferry in recent months, overhauling two engines.
The ferry was also carrying cargo when it capsized close to the dock. The cause of the incident was not immediately clear, but overloading is frequently found to be the cause.
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 the passenger and cargo ferry MV Bukoba sank on Lake Victoria. Six years ago, 144 people died or disappeared when an overloaded ferry sank off the semi-autonomous Tanzanian island of Zanzibar.