An overloaded boat capsized on the Ugandan side of Lake Albert overnight, killing at least 33 people, in the second such disaster to strike the country in two weeks, police said on Monday.
The boat capsized on Lake Albert, Africa’s seventh largest lake, which lies in north-western Uganda and straddles the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“The survivors are 17. We are receiving reports that 33 people drowned,” regional police commissioner for the Midwestern region Marcelino Wanithu said.
“We believe there could have been more than 50 on board, plus luggage,” he said. “Based on investigations so far, we are saying that boat was overloaded.”
Deputy national police spokesperson Vincent Ssekate said that five bodies were recovered but Wanithu stressed that, based on past experience, death tolls become clearer after a few days when bodies float back to the surface.
“So far we have 17 survivors while five bodies have been recovered. Of course, the search is continuing,” he told AFP.
Ssekate said the vessel was carrying local traders attempting to bring their goods from Hoima district at the southern end of Lake Albert, to Nebbi district at the lake’s northern tip.
The boat likely included a heavy cargo of fish.
The government-controlled New Vision newspaper, quoting police in a district that borders Lake Albert, reported that there were more than 90 people on the boat.
Severe weather is believed to have caused the accident.
A similar incident occurred on July 20 when a boat carrying passengers and food products capsized on Lake Victoria while attempting to reach a mainland port in Entebbe.
Police and local officials offered differing death tolls regarding that incident, with local leaders insisting 28 had died, while police put the number at 15.
The boat was carrying several tonnes of fish from thee island district of Kalangala and lacked the necessary safety equipment.
Waters can be rough on the region’s large lakes and boats are often poorly maintained. Accidents often cause a high number of fatalities because many boats have no life jackets and a large percentage of the population can’t swim.
In May 1996, the Bukoba ferry sank in Lake Victoria on its way to Mwanza in Tanzania, killing about 800 people. — AFP