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Search Continues For Victims After Ferry Capsizes In Tanzania


This next story takes us to East Africa to the waters of Lake Victoria. The lake is enormous, just a little smaller than Lake Superior, spread across three parts - spread across parts of three countries. The waters of the Nile flow out of it. On this tropical lake near the shore of Tanzania, a ferry boat was carrying hundreds of passengers when something went very wrong. NPR's Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joins us now. Ofeibea, pick it up from there. What happened?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings, Rachel. Well, we're told that up to 200 people may have drowned and that recovery efforts have resumed. The M.V. Nyerere ferry overturned, as you said, near the shore of Ukora. It's thought, though, that this overloaded vessel tipped over when the crowds on board moved to one side as the ferry docked. As we say, exact figures are not sure yet, but that is how it looks as if this accident, this disaster, happened.

MARTIN: How are the recovery efforts going?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, they have managed, apparently, to recover even more people, but apparently the ferry was especially busy because it was market day in Bugolora. Now, these islands are close to Tanzania's second-largest city of Mwanza so a lot was happening, and it's not the first time that Tanzania has seen this sort of nautical disaster in the waters of Lake Victoria.

MARTIN: You say this has happened before, I mean, that there have been ferry accidents. What is it with these ferries? Are they not stable? What's the problem here?

QUIST-ARCTON: Often it's because too many people are allowed on board. And it's not just Tanzania. You know, just nearby Democratic Republic of Congo, we hear quite often of accidents of ferries because they are overloaded. Now, in Tanzania in particular, in 2012, at least 145 people died when another ferry sank. This time, it was transporting people to the island of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean. But Lake Victoria is another example. You've said it spreads across three countries - Uganda, Tanzania. And these sorts of disasters, these sorts of ferry disasters where Africans are using waterways almost as highways in the U.S., these sorts of disasters happen periodically, and sometimes hundreds of people are killed.

MARTIN: Is the government in Tanzania prepared to have to deal with this recovery effort?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, of course that is the question. And, of course, the families of the survivors will want to know what's going on. But I think it's too easy to say right now what is going to happen. How many people have died, how many people have managed to hang on and survive? Back in 1996, 800 people died when M.V. Bukoba capsized on Lake Victoria, and it was one of the worst ferry disasters in the last century. But, you know, you sometimes have people who literally cling on. Hundreds survived in 2012. They were found clinging onto mattresses and fridges in Zanzibar, off the coast of Zanzibar. So we're going to have to wait to see whether people have managed to survive in the same way or whether they went under and drowned.

MARTIN: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. Thank you so much, Ofeibea.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.