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Tears, pain as boat death toll hits 108

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Residents of Kitebere Landing Site in Ntoroko District look on yesterday as police divers retrieve more bodies of Congolese refugees who drowned in Lake Albert on Saturday.

Residents of Kitebere Landing Site in Ntoroko District look on yesterday as police divers retrieve more bodies of Congolese refugees who drowned in Lake Albert on Saturday. The marine officers had recovered 108 bodies by last evening as the search for more bodies enters Day Four today. AFP PHOTO/Michele Sibiloni 

By Ruth Katusabe & Ronald Tumusiime

Posted  Tuesday, March 25   2014 at  02:00

In Summary

TRAGEDY. Two days after boat carrying refugees capsized in Lake Albert near Ntoroko District, marine officers recover more 82 bodies bringing death toll to 108 as search continues.

PREVIOUS accidents
December 2004: Twenty-two people died when a boat they were traveling in capsized at Korokoto between Mahangi and Panyimur on Lake Albert.
February 2004: Forty-five people died when their boat capsized on their way from Bugoigo in Buliisa district to Panyimur in Nebbi district.
July 2003: Twenty people drowned at Ruunga landing site when a canoe boat capsized. They were travelling from Panyimur to Bugoma in Hoima.
September 2000: Forty-one people died when their boat sunk near Kayonga with over 100 bags of fish.
May 1998: Ten people drowned near Kanara landing site in Ntoroko district while sailing to Kibaale.
1997: Sixty-five people died when the boat capsized on the way to Dei market in Nebbi from Butiaba in Masindi.
August, 2010: About 70 people drowned in Lake Albert at night in a boat accident on Lake Albert when a passenger boat sank. Over 50 people survived the accident.
February, 2010: Four UPDF soldiers drowned in Lake Albert.
August 2010: Twenty-three bodies were recovered from Lake Albert following a boat accident at Kakoma in Runga village in Hoima District.

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The police had by last evening recovered 108 bodies of people who drowned in Lake Albert in western Uganda on Saturday night. Members of the police marine force helped by local fishermen recovered 19 bodies on Saturday, seven on Sunday and 82 yesterday.

This brings the total to more than 100 bodies in what is perhaps one of the worst maritime disasters in Uganda.
The boat, which was reportedly carrying more than 150 mainly Congolese refugees, was sailing from Senjojo Landing Site in Hoima District to Ntoroko when it capsized near Kitebere Landing Site in Ntoroko District.
“With 82 bodies recovered today (yesterday) and the others found in the past two days, it is obvious that the boat was overloaded,” said Mr John Elatu, the Kibaale District police commander, whose men have come to help their colleagues in neighbouring Ntoroko.

Kibaale offered the sole speed boat being used in the search. On Saturday, fishermen who swam to help the drowning people, managed to rescue 45 of them. The bodies were transported to Kanara Health Centre in Ntoroko but the Office of the Prime Minister was reportedly arranging to take them to Bundibugyo District for postmortem.

The bodies will thereafter be transported to DR Congo for burial. Even with the exact number of people on board unknown, Mr Elatu said they would continue with the search “until we find everybody”.

His Ntoroko counterpart, Mr Bosco Bakashaba, told journalists that the retrieved bodies were floating on the lake.
“More bodies may be discovered since the search is still ongoing,” he said. The 45 survivors, Mr Bakashaba said, are currently being kept at Kitebere Police Post although they were demanding to be allowed to go and bury their relatives.
The refugees, who were escaping from Kyangwali camp in Hoima through Senjonjo Landing Site to Ntoroko, were reportedly headed for their home land of Kamango in the DR Congo.

The camp hosts more than 20,000 Congolese refugees. At Kitebere Landing Site, the mood was one of fear and shock as rescuers kept fishing out more bodies from the waters.

Mr Para Deng, who heads the local beach management unit, said residents need psychological help.
“The government should provide counseling services here because the public is in great fear. They are traumatised by what they are seeing,” he said. He also asked NGOs like the Uganda Red Cross to support the residents.

Additional reporting by Francis Mugerwa & Felix Basiime.