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Lake Victoria ferry disaster in Tanzania: what we know

More than 200 are feared drowned after a ferry capsized and sank on Lake Victoria in Tanzania. The search for survivors and victims was due to resume on Friday morning, following the sinking the previous afternoon.

It’s the latest in a series of ferry disasters in the east African country, in which overcrowding has often been a factor.

What happened?

The MV Nyerere, an open deck ferry, was travelling between the islands of Ukerewe and Ukora on Lake Victoria in northern Tanzania. The largest freshwater lake in Africa, it also borders Kenya and Uganda.

It capsized and sank not far from the shore, just before docking. According to at least one eyewitness, large numbers of people suddenly moved to one side of the vessel all at once.

There were distressing scenes as dozens of people floundered in the water, as hundreds watched helplessly from the shoreline.

Local people joined in rescue efforts and fishermen are said to have saved some 20 or 30 people.

How many people were on board?

More than 300 people are estimated to have been on board the ferry when it went down. However, local reports have put the number at even higher.

Exactly how many is hard to establish as the person dispensing tickets also drowned and the machine recording the data was lost, Reuters reports.

According to Tanzanian media, the ferry had a capacity of about 100 passengers and 25 tonnes of cargo.

What are the authorities saying?

The Tanzania Electrical, Mechanical and Electronics Services Agency (TEMESA), which operates ferry services, said the MV Nyerere did not have any mechanical problems and had undergone heavy maintenance in recent months, including the overhaul of two engines.

Company spokeswoman Theresia Mwami said exactly how many people were on board had not been established.

Ukerewe District Commissioner Lucas Magembe told Reuters that 42 people had already been confirmed dead on Thursday, a figure that rose to 44 on Friday as police confirmed that rescuers had resumed their search at the crack of dawn.

“We pray to God to give us hope in such an accident. We pray to God to give us hope that there has not been a high death toll,” regional commissioner Adam Malima said on Thursday.

President John Magafuli has sent his condolences to the victims.

A history of ferry disasters

Earlier this decade Tanzania suffered two nautical disasters off the island of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean.

In July 2012 the Skagit passenger ferry sank in rough seas after leaving Dar es Salaam with more than 250 people on board. As many as 150 are thought to have died.

The previous September had seen an even worse disaster. The Spice Islander ferry had over 2,000 passengers when it sank off Zanzibar. The number of dead was put at over 200 but a government report later said more than 1,300 were missing.

Lake Victoria witnessed tragedy in 1996 when the steamer MV Bukoba capsized in one of the worst ferry disasters of the 20th century. More than 700 of an estimated 1,000 people on board were killed when the ship sank before docking at the lake’s southern port of Mwanza, after sailing from Bukoba on the western shore.