(NAIROBI, Kenya) — The death toll soared past 200 while a survivor was found inside a capsized Tanzania ferry two days after the Lake Victoria disaster, officials said Saturday, while search efforts were ending to focus on identifying bodies.
The survivor, an engineer, was found near the engine of the overturned vessel, Mwanza regional commissioner John Mongella told reporters. The Tanzanian Broadcasting Corporation, which reported the death toll, said he had shut himself into the engine room. His condition was not immediately known.
Colorful coffins arrived, and the work would now focus on identifying bodies, Tanzania’s defense chief Venance Mabeyo told reporters at the scene. Families of victims gathered and prepared to claim the dead.
“We have found him after three days and now we are transporting his body to Kamasi for burial,” said Temeni Katebarira, the brother of one victim.
Mass graves were dug, and workers continued to haul the dead from the water. Abandoned shoes were scattered on the shore.
“From morning till now we have retrieved more than 58 bodies. This includes both children and adults,” said TropistaTemi, a Red Cross volunteer. “Because of the congestion we have not been able to do full totaling. Later, we will do a full tally.”
But the total number of deaths might never be known. No one is sure how many people had been on board the badly overloaded ferry, which officials said had a capacity of 101. It capsized in the final stretch before shore on Thursday afternoon as people returning from a busy market day prepared to disembark, while horrified fishermen and others watched.
Officials on Friday said at least 40 people had been rescued.
President John Magufuli has ordered the arrests of those responsible. He said the ferry captain already had been detained after leaving the steering to someone who wasn’t properly trained, The Citizen newspaper reported.
“This is a great disaster for our nation,” Magufuli told the nation in a televised address late Friday, announcing four days of national mourning.
Pope Francis, the United Nations secretary-general, Russian President Vladimir Putin and a number of African leaders have expressed shock and sorrow.
The MV Nyerere, named for the former president who led the East African nation to independence, was traveling between the islands of Ukara and Ukerewe when it sank, according to the government agency in charge of servicing the vessels.
Accidents are often reported on the large freshwater lake surrounded by Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Some of the deadliest have occurred in Tanzania, where aging passenger ferries often carry hundreds of passengers and well beyond capacity.
In 1996, more than 800 people died when 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.