Rescuers were yesterday still looking for nine bodies of people aboard a boat that capsized in Lake Victoria.
One body had been recovered by the time of going to press yesterday, with family members and the public hoping for more rescues at Honge Beach in Siaya County.
The victims of the Tuesday night tragedy are believed to be Uganda nationals. Up to 10 survived.
Police said the accident could have been caused by strong winds and overloading.
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Addressing the press, the Coast Guard Service Officer in charge of Inland Squadron Bernard Mibei said the boat was also carrying agricultural produce at the time of the accident.
“The incident happened near the shore. I believe they would have survived if they had life jackets,” said Lieutenant Mibei, noting that most of the lake users had not been observing safety measures.
The officer added that the boat’s departure from Uganda was not recorded with the authorities.
Tuesday’s tragedy comes barely five months since 20 passengers were rescued when a water bus en route to Usenge Beach capsized.
Rescuers used at least three boats in their search operation yesterday before they could find the woman’s body at around 1pm.
Mibei said the search for the remaining bodies could extend to the weekend if need be, adding that Kenyan and Ugandan authorities were in talks and would work together in the operation
Isah Kudamba, a survivor, said the coxswain died in the accident.
“We left Uganda at around 10am and the lake was very calm. Problems started at around 8pm when we were approaching Honge Beach. The lake suddenly became rough, forcing us to drop some of our luggage,” narrated Mr Kudamba.
Maureen Namakhula, who survived the tragedy together with her three-year-old daughter, said hers was nothing short of a miracle.
“We hang on the boat and the floating luggage before we were rescued by fishermen,” said Namakhula.
Yesterday, family members fought back tears, as they viewed the only body that had been retrieved. Witnesses said the woman might have tried to clutch onto a bunch of bananas before she drowned.
Meanwhile, a temporary ban on wailing has been imposed at the beach, as such is believed to herald bad luck and could hinder quick retrieving the remaining bodies.
“According to our traditions, when one dies in the lake, his or her family members camp at the shore until the body is retrieved. This could take between three days and a week, depending on whether the one who drowned was in good terms with the family,” Henry Oyamo, a local, told The Standard.
Further, anybody who finds a body is required to accompany the bereaved family to their home, where a goat or a chicken is given for cleansing.
The owner of a boat that capsized is also required to take a piece of the boat for cleansing. If this is not done, the boat will be seen as a bad omen and nobody allowed to use it.
Yesterday there was contention on whether police should be allowed to take the retrieved body and any other that might be found thereafter to the mortuary.
A relative to one of the victims wanted police to be allowed to take bodies recovered for burial in Uganda instead of taking them to the mortuary for postmortem.
The body retrieved yesterday will stay at the shore until the remaining nine are found, in line with Luo traditions.