By Ismael Kasooha
KIBAALE - The coxswain (pilot) of the boat that capsized on Lake Albert killing an unspecified number of Congolese refugees has been arrested by police in Kibaale as the search for more bodies continues.
As many as 60 people are feared dead -- with 22 bodies found so far -- in another of the worst boat disasters in Uganda’s recorded history that occurred early Saturday.
Four years ago, some 70 people were involved in a boat fatality when their boat capsized on the same lake - also on a Saturday.
The coxswain of the latest incident, only identified as Ocelle, is currently under police custody at Kitebere landing site.
Coxswain (pilot) of the ill-fated boat, Ocelle, is in police custody. PHOTO/Ismael Kasooha
Kibaale district police commander John Ojokuna Elatu, who identified the coxswain, said he will be transferred to the district police headquarters.
Ojokuna said the coxswain of the ill-fated boat will be charged with traffic offences of overloading, operating a boat under the influence of alcohol and recklessness “as soon as possible”.
Meanwhile the search and rescue operation for both survivors and bodies is going on, with the police and local fishermen teaming up in the efforts.
By Sunday morning the number of people rescued had reached 42 with at least 22 bodies already recovered.
It is believed that over 40 bodies are still in the waters.
Charles Kisembo, the fisheries officer in charge of Ndaiga sub-county declared that finding more people alive is unlikely, and that hope for any survivors is fading.
“We do not expect to get survivors, but the search continues,” he said.
The boat capsized near Kitebere landing site in Kibaale district en route to Ntoroko landing site where it was taking some 100 Congolese refugees who were reportedly fleeing from Kyangwali refugee settlement camp in Kyangwali sub-county Hoima district.
The refugees boarded at Senjojo landing site on Saturday morning but later encountered mechanical problems a few hours later at around 10am local time, leading to their boat tipping over.
The bodies of those who died were taken to Ntoroko health center mortuary aboard a Kibaale district speed boat.
Among the deceased are 14 children.
What survivors say
Pastor Modest Kasongo was among the rescued survivors of the fatal boat disaster. PHOTO/Ismael Kasooha
Alice Nanzeri, who survived with her children, said the boat was overloaded with people and luggage which could have caused the accident.
“We had mattresses and all our household items and the boat was very full,” she said Nanzeri.
Her theory was that the mattresses could have absorbed water along the way, which made the boat heavier and hence leading to the deadly mishap.
Nanzeri said that they clang onto the capsized vessel, and were lucky to be found by an advancing rescue boat.
Another survivor, Pastor Modest Kasongo, blamed the accident on the coxswain, whom he said was sipping on a sachet of alcohol the whole way until the accident occurred.
“The pilot must have been drunk and lost control because he was taking alcohol,” he said.
The refugees said that they were escaping from the settlement camp due to the unfavorable conditions there, especially inadequate food supplies.
“We have been having a single meal daily and we could not manage such an environment,” said one of them.
Costa Toyokana, 12, who lost all his relatives in the accident, told New Vision he does not know what to do next.
“All my parents and others have perished so am helpless now,” he moaned.
12-year-old Costa Toyokana survived the boat accident, but all his relatives he was travelling with did not. PHOTO/Ismael Kasooha
The survivors said they have not been getting food supplies from the leaders of the camp, which prompted them to return home where they say they believe is now secure and that they can practice agriculture to fend for their families.
One refugee said that they only received 10kgs of maize and beans and they do not know what next.
They said they are now planning to go to Ntoroko and then board commuter taxis to Bundibugyo and then proceed to their villages which are bordering Uganda.
The relocation of the Congolese refuges started in August this year when they fled their home area in Kamango in Western DR Congo after Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) attacked them and they fled to Uganda.
Over 20,000 refugees have been settled in Kyangwali refugee settlement land by the United Nations High Commission for Refuges (UNHCR).