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Dozens of people have died in Tanzania when a passenger ferry capsized in the south of Lake Victoria, an official said on Thursday.

While it wasn’t confirmed, it is believed more than 200 passengers were on board the vessel with a capactiy of about 100 people.

“According to reports that President John Magufuli has just received from the authorities in Mwanza, the toll now stands at more than 40 dead,” Gerson Msigwa, the president’s spokesman, said on state television.

Tanzania’s Electrical, Mechanical and Services Agency, which operates ferry services, said the boat known as MV Nyerere sank Thursday afternoon near Ukara Island.

 

“There were more than a hundred passengers on board when the ferry sank. It is feared that a significant number have lost their lives,” said George Nyamaha, head of Ukerewe district council.

John Mongella, the commissioner of Mwanza, said 37 people were rescued but those efforts were suspended until daybreak Friday.

He couldn’t say how many people were on the ferry until the search-and-rescue operation was over.

Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi, reporting from Nairobi in neighbouring Kenya, said the boat was also carrying cargo when it went down.

“What we also know from witnesses that the ferry appeared to be overloaded. It has a capacity of 100 people,” she said. “The ferry was affected by bad weather as well.”

In 1996, a ferry disaster on Lake Victoria in the same region killed more than 500 people.

In 2012, 145 people died in a ferry disaster in Tanzania’s semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, in the Indian Ocean, on a vessel that was overcrowded.

In 1996, more than 500 people were killed when a ferry sank near Mwanza on Lake Victoria [File: Danny Wilcox Frazier/AP]

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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