At least 44 people died and scores were missing after a Tanzanian ferry, MV Nyerere, capsized in Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, with a desperate search for survivors set to resume in Tanzania on Friday.
There were “more than a hundred passengers” on board the vessel when it sank Thursday afternoon near Ukara Island in the southeast of the vast lake, which also extends into Uganda and Kenya, a local official said.
“It is feared that a significant number have lost their lives,” said George Nyamaha, the head of Ukerewe district council of which the island is a part.
Regional governor John Mongella said late Thursday the toll had reached 44 while 37 others had been rescued, though some of the survivors were in “a very bad condition”.
He added that rescue operations had been suspended and would continue on Friday morning.
A statement from Tanzania’s Electrical, Mechanical and Services Agency said it was unknown how many passengers were aboard the MV Nyerere.
The ferry was also carrying cargo, including sacks of maize and cement, when it overturned close to the dock. The cause of the accident was not immediately clear, but overloading is frequently to blame for such incidents.
President John Magufuli’s spokesman Gerson Msigwa also said on state television TBC 1 that the death toll stood at more than 40.
With a surface area of 70,000 square kilometres (27,000 square miles), oval-shaped Lake Victoria is roughly the size of Ireland. Capsizes are not uncommon in the massive lake, and the number of fatalities is often high due to a shortage of life jackets and the fact that many people in the region cannot swim.