Lake Victoria Tanzania ferry disaster: Divers hunt for survivors

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Media captionRelatives have been anxiously waiting for news

At least 136 people have died after a ferry carrying hundreds of people capsized on Lake Victoria, Tanzania, officials say.

Many are missing and it is feared that more than 200 people in total may have drowned. Rescue efforts resumed on Friday after being halted overnight.

The MV Nyerere ferry overturned near Ukara island on its way from Bugorora.

It is thought the overloaded vessel tipped over when crowds on board moved to one side as it docked.

Rescue operations on Africa's biggest lake have involved police and army divers, as well as small private boats and local fishermen.

The BBC's Aboubakar Famau in Tanzania says fear has gripped residents of the Mwanza region as they wait to hear the fate of relatives who travelled on the MV Nyerere on Thursday.

"I received a call telling me that I have lost my aunt, father and my younger brother," says Editha Josephat Magesa, a local resident.

"We are really saddened and urge the government to provide a new ferry because the old one was small and the population is big."

Our reporter says the ferry's engines were recently replaced after local MP Joseph Mkundi complained about the previous ones.

How did this happen?

Local media say the ferry's official capacity was 100 people, but officials say the vessel was carrying more than 400 passengers when it capsized.

It operates on a busy route, crossing eight times a day between the islands of Ukara and Ukwerewe, which are close to Tanzania's second-largest city of Mwanza.

The ferry was said to have been particularly busy because it was market day in Bugorora, on Ukerewe island.

The vessel was also carrying cargo, including bags of cement and maize, when it capsized around 50 metres from the shore.

It is thought that many of the passengers would not have been able to swim.

An official investigation will take place once rescue efforts to find survivors have ended.

Has anyone been rescued?

Tanzania's police chief Simon Sirro Mwanza, who has travelled to the area, confirmed the new death toll.

So far, 40 people have been rescued and are in critical condition, according to Mwanza Regional Commissioner John Mongella. Local officials initially reported on Thursday that 100 people had been rescued.

Exact figures, though, are yet to be confirmed - Reuters said the person who dispensed tickets for the journey also died, with the machine recording the data lost.


Five things about Lake Victoria

Image copyright AFP
  • With a surface area greater than Switzerland, Lake Victoria is the world's second-biggest lake and the largest in Africa
  • Shared by Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, some 30 million people depend on its resources
  • Challenges include pollution and falling water levels - biodiversity in Lake Victoria has dropped by 50% since the 1980s
  • English colonialist John Hanning Speke named it after Britain's Queen Victoria when he travelled there in 1858
  • Some have called for the lake's name to be changed - proposals include its Luganda-language name Nalubaale, and Lake Jumuiya which means "togetherness" in Swahili

Has anything like this happened before?

Tanzania has seen a number of nautical disasters, with overcrowding often playing a role.

In 2012, at least 145 people died when a packed ferry sank while transporting people to the island of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean.

The year before, almost 200 people died in another major incident off the coast of Zanzibar. Hundreds survived, some found clinging to mattresses and fridges.

In 1996, more than 800 people died when the MV Bukoba capsized on Lake Victoria. It was one of the the worst ferry disasters of the last century.

Image copyright Stephen Msengi
Image caption Scores of people have so far been reported rescued
Image copyright Stephen Msengi
Image caption Lake Victoria is the world's second-biggest lake and the largest in Africa
Image copyright Stephen Msengi
Image caption Large crowds watched rescue efforts from the shore

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