Kenya: Overloading Blamed for Boat Tragedy That Claimed 10 Lives

20 November 2020

The boat that capsized in Lake Victoria on Tuesday night killing 10 people may have been overloaded.

Authorities in Siaya believe the vessel, which was coming from Uganda, was carrying cargo way beyond its capacity.

Bondo Deputy County Commissioner Paul Wanyonyi yesterday led a multi-agency team to Honge Beach to condole with the victims.

Preliminary findings indicate the passengers had no life jackets.

Search operations resumed early yesterday morning and it was carried out by a multi-agency team from the Kenya Maritime Authority, Kenya Revenue Authority, Coast Guard Service, the police, department of fisheries and fishermen from Honge and Usenge beaches.

Marine crops

Mr Wanyonyi told the Nation that they are in touch with their Ugandan counterparts.

He said bodies will be handed over to Ugandan marine corps when they are retrieved. "We are expecting them to arrive anytime now so that we handover the bodies to them."

Mr Wanyonyi said the search will go on until evening if the lake is calm. "The operation is dictated by the weather patterns. If there are strong tides, then we will have to call it off because we don't want to risk losing more lives," he said.

Nine bodies had not been recovered by the time of filing this report. One body, belonging to a female passenger, was recovered on Wednesday afternoon.

Some relatives of the victims who had travelled from Uganda and some Honge residents were also camping at the shores of Lake Victoria.

The accident happened only a month after another boat tragedy that claimed six lives in Budalang'i, all the victims were Ugandan nationals.

Coast Guard Service officer-in-charge of inland squadron Bernard Mibei said the boat was loaded with agricultural produce, including bananas and jackfruits.

Search boats

The assistant captain, who led the five search boats, said the incident took place near the shoreline, adding that there would have been more survivors had those on board been wearing life jackets.

Mr Mibei said the operators failed to inform maritime agencies in the region about their trip. "As standard practice, the vessel's operators are expected to alert the authorities of their schedule before they travel. This was not the case," he said.

All boats that venture into the waters should have life jackets. This requirement is largely ignored by many operators, including fishermen.

It was not clear what time the boat departed from Uganda but some survivors said they left a beach known as Nairobi on Tuesday morning for the 11-hour journey.

"The boat's departure from Uganda was not recorded with the authorities as required," said Mr Mibei.

The vessel was carrying 20 people, according to various sources.

The tragedy comes barely five months after another accident in which 20 passengers were rescued when a water bus en-route to Usenge Beach capsized.

Lake Victoria

The water bus was sailing from Mageta island of Lake Victoria to Usenge when it sunk.

According to those conducting the search, the operation could extend to the weekend.

Officials from the two countries are in discussion on a possible joint operation to retrieve the remaining bodies.

Mr Isah Kudamba, a survivor, said the coxswain died in the accident.

"We left Uganda at around 10am and the lake was very calm. Problems started at around 8pm when we were approaching Honge Beach. The lake suddenly became rough, forcing us to drop some of our luggage," he said.

Ms Maureen Namakhula, who survived the tragedy together with her three-year-old daughter, said she was happy to be alive.

"It was nothing short of a miracle and I am glad we escaped the jaws of death with my daughter," she said.

The survivors talked of the moment of horror as they hang on the boat and the floating luggage before they were rescued by fishermen.

The woman whose body was retrieved on Wednesday afternoon is believed to have tried to clutch onto a bunch of bananas before drowning.

In line with Luo traditions, the body will stay at the shore until the remaining nine are found.

DOwasonga@ke.nationmedia.com

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