Tanzania’s Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa has led “national funerals” on the island of Ukara where the first twelve victims have been buried after a ferry capsized on Lake Victoria, killing 224 people.
Majaliwa spoke of “great mourning by the whole nation” on Sunday as the first coffins were placed in individual graves, many of the victims unidentified.
The remainder of the dead were to be buried later or taken away by families who wished to hold private funerals.
Majaliwa said a memorial would be built on Ukara, where the MV Nyerere had been coming in to dock on Thursday.
Hopes had faded of finding any more survivors three days after the disaster, even after rescuers pulled out an engineer on Saturday who had holed up in an air pocket in the upturned vessel.
But Majaliwa said divers would continue the grim search in the waters around the boat. The ferry will also be brought back to the surface.
He updated the death toll to 126 women, 71 men, 17 girls and 10 boys. Only 41 of the 265 people on board survived.
Transport Minister Isack Kamwelwe said on Saturday that 172 of the bodies had been identified by relatives.
One survivor said he was still searching for his daughter.
“My child might have been found, but I haven’t seen her,” said Magesa Chibuga, in Swahili.
“I am therefore waiting for this ferry to be lifted from the water so that I can see whether she is there or not. But I am feeling very bad. I thank God I have found my wife, but the child is still missing. So God has every plan.”
Chibuga described how he survived when the boat capsized.
“I heard people shouting ‘accident, accident!’ I was seated with my bag. I put it on my chest, removed my phone, put it in my bag and then jumped. After I jumped I found a lifesaver and grabbed it and that’s how I escaped.”
It is not uncommon for ferries to capsize on the lake and the number of fatalities is often high due to a shortage of life jackets and the fact that many local people cannot swim.
In 1966, more than 800 people lost their lives on Lake Victoria when the MV Bukoba sank off the mainland town of Mwanza, according to the Red Cross.