Dozens feared dead in Lake Victoria ferry disaster

July 21, 2010 12:00 am

, KAMPALA, Jul 21 – A ferry capsized on Lake Victoria off the Ugandan shore on Wednesday, leaving several passengers feared dead as officials struggled to establish how many were missing.

Early reports said dozens were missing after the ferry overturned some three nautical miles from the city of Entebbe, but police said survivors\’ accounts put the number of people onboard at "at least 13".

"Based on information coming from the survivors, the figures I have are 13 people on board," deputy national police spokesman Vincent Ssekate told AFP.

He said two passengers were confirmed to have been rescued.

But another police spokesman earlier said that the boat was believed to be carrying around 60 passengers.

"Onlookers are telling us that the figure of those on board was around 60," Kampala police spokesman Idi Ssenkumbiand said.

The MP for the Kalangala island district from which the boat left at 5:30 am (0230 GMT) said reports indicated as many as 28 had died in the accident.

"People from the community I spoke to said 32 were on board and only four survived, so actually it is 28 who died," Ruth Nvumetta told AFP.

"I have spoken to some local people and they said the problem was actually the wind. And of course the boat was overloaded. You know, our means of transport are not so good," she explained.

"The boat capsized shortly after setting off… The controller of the boat and the owner are among those who died," she added.

Boats capsize frequently on Africa\’s largest lake, which is the size of Ireland, due to weather conditions that can make its waters as rough as open sea and antiquated poorly-maintained ships.

Hundreds of people have died in similar accidents in recent years.

The deadliest such accident occurred in May 1996 when a ferry, the Bukoba, sank on its way to Mwanza in Tanzania, killing around 800.

"Safety is an issue but we are doing several things," Tom Okurut, executive secretary of the Lake Victoria Basin Commission, told AFP.

"We now have common East African legislation providing guidelines, we have finished the installation of a communication ring around the lake to improve response time and we are setting a search and rescue centre," he explained.



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