Ugandan diving teams are retrieving bodies from Lake Victoria where police say scores died in a boat accident a short distance off the shore of Mutima in Mukono District, close to the capital Kampala.
The boat carrying close to a hundred revelers including Prince David Wasajja, a brother to Buganda King Kabaka Ronald Mutebi sank at about 7 p.m. Saturday, due to suspected overloading and bad weather.
“It seems the boat was overloaded because whereas it had capacity for 50 people only, it had about 120 passengers on board, who also seemed to be partying with a lot of music. They might not have heard the emergency commands of the captain, who is still unaccounted for,” said Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
When the Police and the UPDF got information from the fishermen, they rushed in and rescued 26 people. By today morning, 29 dead bodies had been recovered. The search effort is still ongoing added the Ugandan President.
Early Sunday a police helicopter was seen hovering low over the spot where the boat sank, as a team of divers searched for bodies under calm waters. As the death toll rose, so did the crowd of onlookers at Mutima beach.
One reason many people died so close to shore was likely “intoxication,” said Asuman Mugenyi, national director of police operations. Citing the accounts of some survivors, he said there was a good number of life jackets aboard the doomed vessel that passengers neglected to wear.
“The boat was owned by somebody called Templa Bissase or Bissaso and his wife, both of whom, apparently, perished in the accident. They were coming from a private beach and headed to another private beach in Mukono area,” noted President Museveni.
Preliminary information from the security services, this, apparently, was a private, unregistered, unlicensed and maybe uninsured boat.
According to Richard Kikongo, a Ugandan local government official, first responders were among the victims. “Fishermen on two small boats could see that the boat was sinking and went to help. People tried to jump onto the boats but they were too many and those sunk. The rescuers died too,” he said.
Boat accidents are becoming a challenge on many water bodies in East Africa including Lake Victoria, which is surrounded by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.
In September, more than 200 people were killed when a Tanzanian ferry MV Nyerere sank on the Tanzanian side of Lake Victoria, with officials saying it had been dangerously overcrowded.
“Apart from the anti-bad fishing campaign which the UPDF has been carrying out for some months now on the lakes, the government has also ordered the electronic registration and monitoring of all the boats so that we can know who is where on the lake and why,” President Museveni said.
The President has also sent out condolences to the families of the people who died in the accident on Lake Victoria last evening.