The death toll in Tanzania continues to climb after an overloaded ferry carrying hundreds of people sank in Lake Victoria off the coast of Zanzibar Thursday (Sept. 20). At least 220 are confirmed to have drowned as the the MV Nyerere keeled over into the water, while dozens remain missing.
One survivor recounted the horror of jumping into the swaying waters and clinging to a car tire for 15 minutes before being rescued. Another man, an engineer, survived by locking himself in a small air pocket within the ship where he was later rescued.
“Till this morning we have been able to pull out 223 bodies out of the sea,” Transport Minister Isack Kamwele told CNN on Sunday (Sept. 23). “The exercise is still going on, and at the moment we are trying to fix apparatus to lift the ferry out (onto) land.” The deceased will all be identified and buried in one place, Kamwele said.
During a public address to the West African nation, President John Magufuli blamed negligence for the deaths of several “children, mothers, students” and the elderly. The MV Nyerere ferry was packed well over capacity with as many as 400 people aboard in addition to bundles of bananas, and bags of maize and cement, the BBC reports.
Magufuli ordered the arrest of “those involved in the management of the ferry,” and declared four days of national mourning. Those who have already been apprehended include the captain though he was not on board at the time, the president said. At least 40 people survived the disaster.
Amid reported criticism over the government’s slow response to aiding victims, Magufuli steered the focus away from politics. “Let’s leave designated authorities to investigate,” he said.
Lake Victoria is Africa’s largest lake by area and the world’s largest tropical lake, spanning more than 26,000 square miles. In 2012, close to 150 people died Tanzania when a ferry capsized in the Indian Ocean, and in 1996, as many as 500 lives were lost in another deadly ferry boat tragedy.