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25 Dead In Lake Victoria Boat Accident

25 Dead In Lake Victoria Boat Accident

Rescuers were late yesterday evening still searching for bodies of victims from probably the worst boat catastrophe on Lake Victoria this year. 

By yesterday evening, police had confirmed that at least 25 people had died when their boat capsized, with only nine rescued alive from what should have been a routine and quick trip across the country’s largest water body.

Marine rescuers said five bodies had been recovered by last evening.

Fishermen from neighbouring shores said the ill-fated large boat (locally known as Kinaala) was transporting 34 passengers and cargo from Lwanabatya Landing Site in Kyamuswa County, Kalangala District.

Also aboard was a large cargo including several bags of charcoal, fresh foods and silverfish.

Quoting early reports from or near the scene, Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson, SSP Patrick Onyango yesterday blamed the tragic incident on overloading and terrible weather conditions. 

The craft is reported to have run into a strong windstorm off Jana Islet as it headed for Kasenyi Landing Site near Entebbe in Wakiso District.

As the craft’s skipper struggled to maintain control, the winds reportedly dragged it off course and pushed it in the opposite direction towards Nsazi Island in Mukono District.

Somewhere along the way, the elements tragically prevailed, flipping the heavily-laden craft over and dumping terrified passengers into Lake Victoria’s stormy waters. 

Very few of the 34 souls aboard had put on life jackets — a sad fact which may account for the huge loss of life, and which also prompted police to renew long-standing advisories about the necessity of life-saving gear on watercraft.

“We appeal to members of the public who travel on the waters to always wear life-jackets and not to overload their vessels,” SSP Onyango said. 

According to one of the survivors, the boat skipper started loading passengers at Lwanabatya around 11pm. He then steered for other landing sites, including Kisaba and Ntuuwa, taking on more passengers and cargo along the way.

Seeing how heavily-loaded the vessel was, Mr Lawrence Kiiza had had a premonition about this trip, he told Daily Monitor.

“It is true the boat was overloaded. I reached a point and realised that we were headed for disaster when the skipper shouted that the boat is sinking. I was already praying to God to save us, but unfortunately, it is only a few lucky ones who survived,” Mr Lawrence Kiiza said yesterday.

Mr Kizza revealed that most of his fellow travelers didn’t have life-jackets. And for some of those who had them, they were of generally poor quality which did didn’t help. 

“Usually, when the boat is sailing at night, occupants tend to ignore wearing jackets even when they are available, but today I have learnt how useful those jackets are,” he said .

Pastor Joseph Lule, another survivor, said he survived by desperately hanging onto the frame of capsized boat, calling out for help. The Lord must had heard his prayers because luckily for him a man in another boat close by heard his cries for help and rescued him.  

Their fate appeared to have been sealed the moment the weather changed, whipping up the relatively calm waters into a thundering mass of huge waves, according to the pastor.

“When the strong wave hit our boat near Jana Island even the engine eventually stopped working. The skipper completely lost control of the boat and the waves pushed us towards Nsazi in Mukono District, which is many nautical miles away,” he said .

Even in those poor conditions, whatever little chances they stood, were heavily compromised by the overloading, which has been blamed for the unnecessary deaths.

Mr Wassajja Mulangira, the vice chairperson at the Federation of Fisheries Association in Uganda, yesterday admitted that some boat skippers set off with the recommended load capacity, but usually take on more passengers and cargo.

“What we have suffered as a country today should open our eyes. It is true there has been some laxity on our part but government also needs to pay attention to water transport,” he said.

By Wednesday evening, the search for possible survivors were still underway with teams from Police Marines, UPDF Fisheries Protection Unit and the local community trying to locate the missing passengers.

According to Mr Noah Kizza, a fisherman from Nsazi, he became aware of the tragedy at 4:45 a.m. after seeing some personal effects like women hand bags and head scarfs floating on the water.

“Since we had just suffered strong waves an hour to 3am, when I saw those items floating, I just knew that a disaster had already struck. I mobilised colleagues and embarked on a rescue-and-search mission,” he said  

Water transport is usually risky during the period between June to August due to strong winds and turbulent waves on the lake. These strong winds strike regularly at night, a fact which had seen the government ban passenger boat movement at night.

Survivors narrate ordeal

Joseph Lule

We set off from Kisaba at 11pm and the boat kept on loading passengers and cargo more than what it could carry.

But before we boarded, I realised the weather was changing, I made sure I put on my life jacket before setting off.

When we reached Jana, I heard the skipper shouting, “You people, the boat is sinking”. Those who had no life jackets started looking for them. They (life jackets) were few compared to the number of passengers on board.

It took almost two hours without any rescue efforts until one of the fishing boats that was sailing on the lake came to our rescue.

Lawrence Kiiza

It is true the boat was overloaded with both passengers and cargo.

Sensing danger, I personally started throwing merchandise into the water to save lives. Unfortunately, some items were too heavy.

 I abandoned that quickly and resorted to praying to God to rescue us. Only a few of us survived. We had more women aboard. Naturally, women get more panicky in such tragic situations.

At first, we thought we will sail up to the nearby landing site and get assistance, but the strong waves aggressively pushed our boat towards Nsazi.

After we were rescued, we learnt that it is not the Nsazi we know, but another Nsazi in Mukono.

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