At least 86 people drowned when a ferry sank on Thursday in Tanzania’s Lake Victoria and government officials feared the final death toll could be more than 200, a senior local official said.
Thirty-seven people were rescued after the sinking on Thursday afternoon, Mwanza regional commissioner John Mongella told The Associated Press.
Ukerewe District Commissioner Colonel Lucas Magembe told Reuters that the rescue mission to find survivors from the disaster had been halted until dawn on Friday with 42 people confirmed dead.
Initial estimates showed that the MV Nyerere was carrying more than 300 people onboard. It went down in the afternoon just a few meters from the dock in Ukerewe district, according to national ferry services operator TEMESA said.
The ferry was traveling between Ukara and Bugolora and capsized near the area of Mwanza, the agency said.
But it was hard to establish the precise number of passengers on board since the person dispensing tickets had also drowned with the machine recording the data lost.
The cause of the accident was not immediately clear, but overloading is frequently found to blame. The ferry was also carrying cargo when it capsized close to the dock, south of Victoria, Africa’s largest freshwater lake surrounded by Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.
“According to reports that President John Magufuli has just received from the authorities in Mwanza, the toll now stands at more than 40 dead,” Gerson Msigwa, the president's spokesman said on state television according to an early media report.
TEMESA spokeswoman Theresia Mwami said the operator had carried out maintenance on the ferry in recent months, overhauling two engines.
Some of the deadliest accidents in Lake Victoria have occurred in Tanzania, where passenger boats are often said to be old and in poor condition.
In 1996, more than 800 people were killed when the passenger and cargo ferry MV Bukoba sank on Lake Victoria.
Nearly 200 people died in 2011 when the MV Spice Islander I sank off Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coast near Zanzibar.
In 2012, at least 145 people died in a ferry disaster in Tanzania’s semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean, on a vessel that was overcrowded.