By: Nick Swafford
On Thursday, September 20th, an overloaded ferry carrying an estimated 400 people crossing Lake Victoria capsized. As of right now, 228 people have been confirmed dead. Currently, the death toll is still on the rise, as more and more bodies are being discovered as they wash ashore or are found by search crews. There were many families aboard the ferry that were tragically separated by death.
Although this is a horrible occurrence, it doesn’t come as a surprise.
Being the largest lake in all of Africa, Lake Victoria is notorious for having terrible ferry safety standards. They are considered to have one of the most dangerous ferry systems in the entire world by the Worldwide Ferry Safety Association. This may be due to a number of reasons, but many believe that the large amount of deaths by ferry capsizes are caused by human error and human neglect. Neglecting the capacity of the boat to cater to the large crowds of people needing to travel across the great lake just to make a quick buck is a major reason why so many boats capsize, and the sole cause of that is human ignorance.
As bad as Lake Victoria’s record is for the ferry accidents on its waters, the sinking of ferries aren’t even that uncommon in other parts of the world. In many developing countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines, and Tanzania, ferry accidents are somewhat commonplace. In recent years, however, it’s not just developing countries that have had that problem. Many developed countries like South Korea have also had issues with them, including a ferry disaster resulting in nearly 300 deaths—many of them students. According to the Worldwide Ferry Safety Association, there have been more than 21,000 deaths around the world because of ferry incidents. Many of these have happened in poorer countries.
One of the survivors of the disaster in Lake Victoria was courageous enough to speak up about his experience. Ochori Burana retells the story of how while crossing the lake, the boat took a sharp turn and flipped onto its side, throwing not only cargo but people into the vast waters. When thrown aside, Burana recalls finding a car tire and clinging to it for his life. After 15 minutes of drifting on the tire, local fishermen found and recovered him. Burana tells CNN that he lost six of his relatives during the submersion of the boat, all of whom he now has to mourn for and bury. Many others like Burana have spoke out about their loss of loved ones.
Last Sunday, Tanzania Transport Minister Isack Kamwele made a statement on the death toll. “Till this morning, we have been able to pull out 223 bodies out of the sea,” Kamwele said. “The exercise is still going on, and at the moment we are trying to fix apparatus to lift the ferry out [onto] land.” The president of Tanzania, John Magufuli, has also talked about the tragedy. Magufuli addressed the arrest of the captain of the ferry and how the captain was guilty of overloading the boat over three times its maximum capacity and giving the steering wheel to an untrained individual that hasn’t been identified.
Volunteers are rolling in to help with the aftermath of the catastrophe and help with the many dead bodies that need burial. The shores of Lake Victoria are lined with colorful coffins for deceased loved ones and other lost ones that are unattended. While our hearts go out to those affected by this tragedy, everything is not copacetic. The tragedy is not an uncommon one and we should work to fix the issue and prevent countless future deaths. Until then, be careful when boarding a ferry.