Lake Victoria tragedy ,Tanzania in May 21

Copyright 1996 Features Africa Network
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Distributed by Africa Online Inc.
NEWS BULLETIN, MAY 22 (to30) 1996.

About 400 people are feared drowned in a steamer disaster on Lake Victoria. The steamer, MV Bukoba, sank near Bukoba, Tanzania Tuesday with 600 people on board. Most of them are feared dead. Radio Tanzania said last night that only 21 bodies had been recovered by Tuesday afternoon and latest press reports say that about 120 people have been rescued so far. The steamer was from Bukoba headed for Mwanza when it sank about 30 nautical miles from Mwanza. All available vessels sailed to the disaster scene in an effort to rescue survivors. Reports said the ship can carry 600 to 700 passengers and cargo of 850 tonnes. Reports say the 17 year old ship was in bad shape and some travellers had expressed concern at its condition. The steamer recently developed some problems near Mwanza and almost sank according to press reprots here. The Bukoba resumed service between Port Bell in Uganda, Kisumu in Kenya and Mwanza in February after the revival of East African Co-operation. Reports from Uganda say the MV Butiama which sailed out of Entebbe and the Clarins from Kerewe, sighted the Bukoba sinking. Radio Tanzania reports said there was little hope of finding more survivors though the rescue operations were continuing. The Bukoba sinking is the worst ever disaster on Lake Victoria.
President Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania has declared three days of national mourning for victims of East Africa's worst ship disaster yesterday. About 500 people are feared dead after the sinking of a steamer - The MV Bukoba - near Mwanza in Lake Victoria. According to latest reports about 120 people have been rescued with injuries and 21 bodies recovered. The sinking occurred at Kariemo Island, about 30 kilometres from Mwanza, the Radio said. The top officials of the Tanzania Railways Corporation, the owners of the steamer, rushed to the accident scene and President Mkapa is leading a team of government officials to Mwanza today. Mkapa described the accident as a national tragedy and called on the people of Mwanza to join hands with the families of the bereaved. Reports from Mwanza say the steamer tragedy has completely overshadowed the Burundi peace talks that are due to open today. They are a followup to the first round of talks held in Mwanza last month. Lake Victoria covers about 70,000 square kilometres and is the second largest fresh water lake in the world. Ferries ply routes connecting towns on the Lake in the East Africa countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. But there have been fears over the operations of the ferry ships because they are often overloaded. There have been boat accidents and other mishaps in the Lake but the Bukoba sinking is the one with the highest toll so far.

Newspapers, radio and television stations in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania extensively covered the Lake Victoria tragedy in which more than 500 people are feared dead with the sinking of the Bukoba steamer near Mwanza on Tuesday. According to press reports from the scene of the tragedy, all manner of vessels - ferries, cargo ships, and even small boats were circling the area in the hope of rescuing some survivors or recovering bodies but there was little lack. In Mwanza, crowds waited in vain for relatives or their bodies as boats returned from the scene. So far only about 125 survivors have been rescued and 25 bodies recovered. Most of the passengers were trapped in their cabins when the ship sank into Africa's largest lake. The Tanzanian Minister of transport and communications, William Kusila, who with President Benjamin Mkapa visited the scene Wednesday, said 522 passengers were trapped in the submerged ship. "We fear that about 522 people, who remained on the ship are dead," he told the press in Mwanza. He said a whole night patrol at the scene of the accident did not trace any survivor or any dead body. Kusila admitted that the ship was carrying a lot more passengers than its capacity of 400 and cargo of 85 tonnes. But he denied that overloading was the cause of the accident because the ship was carrying only a tenth of the cargo capacity.
President Daniel Moi of Kenya and the official leader of the opposition Ford Kenya party Kijana Wamalwa have sent messages of condolences to Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa over the ship tragedy on Lake Victoria. Moi called for co-operation among the three East African countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to ensure that ship facilities are safe to protect human life. Wamalwa urged the three East African leaders to work jointly for safe navigation on the lake. He said Kenya had been deeply shocked and pained by the tragic news of the steamers sinking and the loss of life. Others who spoke out against the Lake tragedy were Ford Kenya MP, Phoebe Asiyo who called upon the three states to investigate the accident. Such an investigation, she suggested, could help institute safe measures to avoid future disasters. "The lake disaster will have a negative impact on the trade between the three East African countries, which had picked up since the launch of the East African Co-operation early this year, " said Asiyo. Another Ford MP, Professor Rashid Mzee said the steamer disaster was an East African tragedy and called for the regular servicing of ferries and ships. They should also be equipped with life savers. They should also be fully insured to guarantee ability to compensate for loss of life or injury in accidents. The Tanzanian consulate in Mombasa appealed to both Kenya and Uganda to help wherever possible.
A mood of gloom and shock has reportedly engulfed Tanzanians over the Lake disaster in which more than 500 people are feared dead. But there was also a sense of anger and irritation with vocal elements in Dar es Salaam saying the tragedy was a result of negligence. There were those who said that overloading was the norm in the ships and even trains. "We seem to treat ships, trains and even buses as unlimited as to carrying capacity," one man in Dar es Salaam told Features Africa. "If aviation was not a strict business, I am sure we would also have overloaded flights," he added. Other people Features Africa contacted on the streets of the Tanzanian capital said that because of the bad state of the road between Bukoba and Mwanza, many people travelled between the two towns by steamer. An old man wailed about his twenty relatives who were travelling back to Dar from a funeral in Bukoba. He said the body of one of them had been recovered and he feared the worst for the rest. Operators of the vessels on the Lake have been blamed by various people and organisations in Kenya and Tanzania. Travellers said overloading tended to appear invevitable but it could have been easily avoided by increasing the frequency of the ships on the most travelled routes. The Bukoba left the port of Bukoba with 300 passengers but on its cargo stop at Kemondo Bay, more passengers forced their way in . The ship has no passenger manifest for third class passengers and so it has been difficult to establish the exact number of people who were on board.
A former Kenya Navy Captain and now a consultant on marine navigation, Captain Joseph Muguthi has said that the Bukoba disaster was just waiting to happen, according to a report he wrote in the Daily Nation newspaper here Thursday. He says he would not be surprised if a similar disaster occurred because ships and ferries on the Lake flout all safety regulations with great impunity. Muguthi says the ships do not have life jackets for those on board, do not carry life rifts or life boats nor do they have enough fire fighting equipment on board in cases of fire outbreaks. And in the case of disasters, they have no sound signals, distress signals. And they do not under go mandatory dry docking every 18 months nor do they have their equipment regularly checked. But Muguthi says boats are the worst when it comes to flouting safety regulations. "These boats are never inspected. They never carry any safety equipment. One wonders how they obtain their seaworthiness licences without the safety equipment. Their coxswains have no licence to navigate," declared the ex-Kenya navy officer. He says to stop the carnage on the Lake, all navigators of vessels should have certificates, their vessels should be dry-docked every 18 months for major repairs. The safety regulations and the requirements for life-saving equipment should be in all vessels, even fishing and passenger boats. Life jackets should be given to every passenger boarding who should wear it until they disembark. According to Muguthi this would also help to prevent overloading because nobody without a life jacket would be permitted on board. However, he says the most important decision should be to make all the marine departments in the three East African countries autonomous and managed at all levels by marine officers. "As it is now, in Kampala, Dar es Salaam and Nairobi - these departments are manned at the decision-making levels by non-marines and politicians who know next to nothing about sea-faring," said Muguthi. These people do not understand marine decisions. He gave an example of the sacking of a Tanzanian captain for refusing to navigate an unseaworthy vessel. Captain Muguthi said in the colonial era, marine commanders and engineers were in charge of marine operations. He said that in Nyanza province, if the provincial commissioner went on leave, the top marine officer acted in his absence which solved the importance of the department and the respect accorded to his head.

Tanzania is in three-days national mourning for Tuesday's Lake tragedy in which 500 passengers are feared dead. A statement issued by the Ministry of Education and Culture directed all sporting and entertainment activities to stop in observance of the national mourning. Another directive from President Benjamin Mkapa ordered all flags to fly at half-mast. The 35th national athletics championships and the East Africa Disco championships which were scheduled to start today in Dodoma and Dar es Salaam respectively have been cancelled.
The 1996 Miss Dar es Salaam Beauty pageant has also been postponed.
Kenya's marine salvage experts based in Mombasa are already in Mwanza in response to a request from Tanzania to help salvage the MV Bukoba which sank in Lake Victoria near Mwanza on Tuesday and has more than 500 bodies trapped in it. A two man team from the Divecon firm in Mombasa, left Thursday afternoon by Charter plane to join an international team to help Tanzania. South Africa was also reportedly sending experts to Mwanza. The Kenyan experts took part in salvaging the MV Mtongwe ferry which sank two years ago killing 270 people in Mombasa. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Tanzania's own salvage efforts were futile. The country has only seven divers and 12 oxygen tanks. The tanks, according to an official of the ICRC would only last one hour under water but there is no refill equipment. Observers in Mwanza said there was little evidence of major and organised operation mainly because Tanzania did not have the people and the equipment. Hope was placed in the immediate arrival of foreign teams to salvage the ship and retrieve the bodies. President Benjamin Mkapa has promised an official inquiry into the disaster "and whoever is responsible will be punished". Mkapa was speaking after prayers for the dead in Mwanza. The Minister of Transport, William Kusila said expert drivers and cutting equipment were needed for the salvage and retrieve operation. The ship is 25 metres under water and so far only 125 survivors have been rescued and 25 bodies retrieved. Some of the survivors said the ship was clearly overloaded and swayed and banked for several hours before it sank. The ship's capacity was 433 passengers, and 55 tonnes of cargo. But Radio Tanzania said 522 people were trapped in the cabins. Among those feared dead were school children, a church choir and East African businessmen who ply the routes that connect Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania across the Lake, Africa's biggest.
Two Uganda Catholic priest are among the people believed to have died in the Tuesday's disaster on Lake Victoria which claimed hundreds of lives near the Tanzanian port of Mwanza. An announcement on Radio Uganda yesterday identified the clergy as Brother Mpuga and Brother Alexandria from the Banakaloli Brothers of Kiteredde in Masaka diocese in Western Uganda. "Yes we have heard the announcement on radio but we have not received any (concrete) information about the reported deaths," said the aide in the office of the Bishop of Masaka Diocese. Over ten Ugandans are believed to have died in the accident when the Tanzanian vessel, MV Bukoba, capsized. A spokesman of the Uganda Railways Corporation (URC) which was helping with the rescue operation said yesterday they had registered 120 survivors and rescued 45 bodies.

A Kenyan newspaper, the Daily Nation reported here that the disaster Tanzania ship which sank in Lake Victoria with loss of more than 500 lives had been advertised as unseaworthy. The MV Bukoba was advertised in the Uhuru newspaper as unseaworthy on April 30 and operations had ceased because of mechanical problems. The advertisement was placed by the Tanzania Railways Corporation who owned the ship. An electrical engineer says he survived the tragedy thanks to that advert. He was made aware of the danger of travelling in the ship and so wore a life jacket. "I put on my life jacket because I knew from the word go that there was something wrong with the vessel's balance. And I believe the corporation knew even better," said the engineer, Kamuli Magolanga according to the newspaper report. The engineer says the Railways Corporation has a number of questions to answer.
LAKE DISASTER TOLL MAY BE 1000 According to the latest reports from Mwanza divers who entered the sunken ferry Bukoba and removed bodies on Friday, say, they think there are more than 1,000 bodies on board. Tanzanian officials said more than 500 were killed but the exact toll was unclear as they had differing figures for the number aboard when the vessel capsized and sank on Tuesday. The ferry has a legal capacity of 430. Twenty eight bodies were recovered before Friday. A total of 114 survivors have been officially listed but the ship's owners say more may have survived but not notified the authorities. By Friday rescuers had recovered 158 bodies but stopped the operation at dusk.
More than 150 decomposed bodies recovered from the sunken passenger vessel were buried Saturday in mass graves with national honour in Mwanza, northern Tanzania town. The decomposed bodies could not be identified by their relatives.These bodies are among more than 200 that had been fished out of the lake by rescue operations Saturday, the local paper The Guardian reported yesterday. Ferry MV Bukoba carrying 660 passengers and 20 tonnes of cargo when it sank last Tuesday in Lake Victoria, eight nautical miles from its destination of Mwanza. The boat had a legal capacity of 430 passengers. The identified bodies recovered were taken by relatives for burial under the supervision of the International Red Cross. The multi-denominational funeral at Igona on the outskirts of Mwanza was led by retired President Ali Hassan Mwinyi and senior government officials. "While sending condolences to those bereaved, I would like to assure you that this is not just your tragedy, it is a national tragedy for Tanzania," Mwinyi told some 5,000 grief-stricken mourners. Salmin Amour also attended the sombre occasion on behalf on the Zanzibar government. It is reported that a contigent of 28 South African navy divers arrived in Mwanza Saturday to help in the rescue operations. And another South Africa reinforcement team is expected to be in Mwanza today. The Mwanza regional commissioner, James Luhanga said two burial services would be done every day at the site for the unclaimed bodies until the exercise was over.
THE MV BUKOBA WAS NOT INSURED Tanzania newspaper reports say the disaster ship, The MV Bukoba, in which more than 1000 people are feared to have perished when it sunk near Mwanza, in Lake Victoria last week was not insured. The families of the dead cannot therefore expect to be compensated or to file claims. According to the reports, international regulations do not compel ships or trains to be insured. There was also no institution in Tanzania, under regulations, to declare or certify the seaworthiness of a vessel. But President Benjamin Mkapa has already assured families and relatives of the dead that the government will compensate them for the loss of their dear ones. Mkapa, however, pointed out that in some cases almost whole families were wiped out or the victims were foreigners. It has been difficult to establish the number of foreigners on the sunken ship because the manifest only shows the 443 passengers in the first and second class compartments. The third class compartment which is cheaper and therefore carries more people had no manifest. Reports still to be confirmed indicate 10 Ugandans, died in the tragedy. Kenya has yet to establish how many Kenyans died but President Daniel Moi has also promised compensation for victims. A Tanzanian family is said to have lost 25 members. A School choir of 15 girls also perished in the ship disaster.

Nine officials of the Tanzania Railway Corporation (TRC) have been charged with causing the deaths of hundreds of people on the Bukoba ferry which capsized on Lake Victoria last week. Radio Tanzania said the nine, charged before a High Court in Mwanza face the death sentence if convicted. They were not required to enter a plea. The master of the ferry MV Bukoba, Captain Jumanne Rume was suspended by the government on Monday. Others suspended are Clephas Magoge, manager of TRC's marine division, and six other officials pending investigations. According to the prosecution, the men are responsible for the deaths of more than 500 people, but as many as 1,000 people are feared to have died in the overloaded ferry.
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