Tanzanian President John Magufuli took action this week against a ferry captain and all of the crew as the number of bodies pulled from Lake Victoria in the latest maritime disaster topped 200.
In an address last Friday, Magufuli told the nation that the captain left the ferry’s steering in the hands of a person not trained for the job. The death toll has reached 223, but could go higher as more bodies are pulled out of the water.
Initial reports put the blame on overcrowding, but an investigation will determine the exact cause, the Tanzanian leader said. Some reports said the boat had a capacity to carry 100 people, but was carrying an estimated 400 instead.
In 2016, researchers with the Worldwide Ferry Safety Association studied the soaring number of fatalities on ferries and linked them to several causes. Overcrowding and overloading played a role in about a third of all accidents but they rarely caused accidents alone without the influence of other factors.
In addition to overcrowding, they found, you have substandard vessels, a lack of training for emergency scenarios, as well as more systemic issues such as inadequate support and/or corruption in the regulatory process.
These failures were highlighted by the 2014 sinking of the MV Sewol off the coast of South Korea, during which the captain and crew abandoned ship while hundreds of students remained aboard and perished.
Efforts to monitor, let alone improve, ferry safety in the developing world are handicapped by incomplete recordkeeping and sparse non-existent media coverage of accidents by major international news outlets, the researchers found.
The ferry in the latest disaster was about 650 feet from its destination when the rush of passengers to one side caused the boat to tip and capsize. Thursday is a market day on the island, and many passengers were traveling to market there.
Across the board, the question continues to be, not how to develop solutions to worldwide safety problems, but how to make those solutions available to ferry operators and to passengers in the countries that need them the most, the ferry safety group summed up.
Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Africa, straddling the borders of Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.