13 bodies are still missing in Lake Victoria as police marines' search efforts enter another week.
By Doreen Musingo
After a week-long search, the police marines have so far recovered two bodies of the victims of a boat accident in which 15 people perished on Lake Victoria.
The ill-fated boat that was travelling from Kiyindi landing site in Buikwe district to Bugaya subcounty in Buvuma district capsized between Liibu and Luweero in Buvuma on Thursday night last week.
The Buvuma resident district commissioner Apollo Bwebale identified the bodies as that of John Savimbi, a businessman from Luwero district and another as Jeffery Balunaba, a resident of Ssi sub-county in Buikwe district.
He said the operation to retrieve the remaining 13 bodies was being delayed by bad weather, but hailed the fishing community in Buvuma district for working closely with the marine police during the exercise.
"The weather is too bad with a lot of strong winds. The marine police divers have to wait until it subsides so that they can go on with the exercise. We are doing all we can to get the remaining bodies,” Bwebale said.
During an emergency meeting at Mirembe Hall in Buvuma town council on Friday, Bwebale called on anyone with relatives who might have boarded a boat from Kiyindi landing site but has gone missing, to report to Buvuma district police for help.
The meeting was also attended by LC5 chairman Adrian Wasswa Ddungu and his executive, District Internal Security Officer (DISO) Alex Ssebunya and the police. They heard that the boat had carried 17 passengers with three women and 14 men.
Only two people Matiya Kakooza, from Buikwe and another, Ben Kizza survived the accident because they clutched on jerrycans and wood before being saved by fishermen on the lake.
Vessel overloaded, too old
The meeting attributed the accident to use of a vessel that was not seaworthy and overloading. The LC5 Ddungu explained that the boat was too old yet it was overloaded with over 200 pieces of wood, 100 crates of beer and sodas, a music system and other cargo.
"These people were traveling at night, the weather was too bad and suddenly the rotten wood broke and the boat capsized.
“All passenger vessels should stop moving at 6.00pm. It has been established that those on board were taking crude alcohol, which made them lose direction and control," Ddungu said.
The Buvuma district secretary for production Lawrence Sserwanga however blamed the area marine police for not being effective. He also said they should compel all vessel owners to buy life jackets as well as introduce a toll free line that passengers can call in case of any problem while on travelling on waters.
"Any boat owner who doesn't buy life jackets for passengers will have their license withdrawn. It is now a matter of saving life not just making money on the lake. We know you face many challenges but we also expect you to consider the lives you are carrying on the lake," the Bwebale warned.
“The use of drugs and alcohol while travelling on water is banned.”
It was resolved during the meeting that the DISO should introduce registers of passengers that will be boarding vessels at any landing site in Buvuma district and deploy people who will be carrying out the exercise to help reduce accidents on water.
Participants also agreed that boat owners should separate cargo from passenger boats to reduce on the risks to human life as well as improvising a motor boat engine and the necessary equipment needed during marine operations.
Bwebale said a total of 18 cases of death by drowning were reported in the district from January to March this year.
Charles Odoi, a coxswain who has been in the business for over 20 years and operates from Kitamiro to Kiyindi landing site said the main cause of boats capsizing on waters was unpredictable weather changes.
He added that due to the increased fuel prices many people overload their vessels in a bid to minimize costs which leading to accidents.
Odoi advised boat owners to improvise life jackets as a precaution to curb deaths on water. He urged the government to lobby for the reduction of prices of life jackets so that most water users can access them.
Rogers Natale a frequent traveler on the lake and resident of Buliba village in Buvuma said the problem in water is mainly due to overloading adding that coxswains normally stay longer hours on water after making many stopovers.
"They overload and make many stopovers on waters, sometimes they also use less fuel and have to stop to refuel their engines, which leads to boats capsizing during bad weather," he explained.
Buvuma tragedy: Search for bodies enters Week Two