By Ismael Kasooha
POLICE has banned the transportation of Congolese refugees from Kyangwali on water with immediate effect.
“We have ordered with immediate effect that nobody is allowed to transport the Congolese refugees on water until that person is cleared by police and United Nations High Commission for Refugees,” said Abasi Byakagaba the assistant inspector general and commander oil and gas in the country.
This followed the worst marine accident in Uganda where 108 Congolese refugees who were escaping from Kyangwali settlement camp perished when the boat they were traveling in capsized on Saturday morning near Kitebere landing site in Kibaale district.
Byakagaba said that it was unfortunate that people were over loaded on a boat with mattresses and other luggage illegally yet this could have been avoided.
He said that government established beach management units at every landing site to manage all activities regarding such sites.
“We want to increase police presence at all landing sites in the country so that such incidents do not happen again,” said Byakagaba.
He said that although police has a marine unit which keeps monitoring the waters, they cannot stay everywhere.
“Most of the people had no life jackets but as police we are still following up the matter although we have arrested the coxsine and the manager of the boat that was sailing these refugees.” Byakagaba added.
Byakagaba thanked the beach management unit of Kitebere, the fisheries department Kibaale and UPDF marine for their efforts to save the refugees.
He said that police preliminary investigations reveal that the accident was as a result of overloading.
On Tuesday morning one body was retrieved and the number of the dead now stands at 58 children and 50 adults.
All bodies have been taken to Ntoroko health centre where they were later transported to Bundibugyo by UNHCR to be handed over to the relatives from Democratic Republic of Congo for burial.
Kitebere landing site is still in a somber mood as activities remain low key despite some few people slowly returning to business.
At the fishing village, the luggage of the deceased remains dumped there as police constables guard it.
The luggage includes mattresses, bicycles, household items and bags.
What other people say
Dennis Opara the chairman Kitebere beach management unit attributes the accident to dangerous loading.
“This boat in normal loading is supposed to transport only 50 passengers without luggage but if they have luggage then it is supposed to carry only 30 people,” said Opara while talking to New Vision.
The exact number of people who were aboard this boat still remains a mystery as reports say it was carrying over 200 people even though the owners of the boat claim it had only 95 people.
“How can this boat have only 95 people yet the dead are 108 and the rescued are 45?” asked Opara.
A simple calculation of the survivors and the dead puts the number of passengers at 153 but other bodies are still expected.
Opara said that although they have laws against over loading, boat owners still flout them.
Most people fail to use life jackets because of lack of money to hire them.
Hiring a life jacket costs between shs.5000 to 10.000 depending on the distance and yet most people cannot afford this fee.
Information from Senjojo landing site indicates that the chairman of the beach management unit identified as Sharif Ucha has been arrested because he registered the people who were leaving his beach.
These people were charged shs.10,000 for transport and each mattress at 3,000 to Ntoroko.
Police remain present as the search continues for any bodies that could still be in the waters.