Tanzania's leader orders arrests as ferry death toll passes 200

Tanzanian state media says the death toll from a capsized ferry on Lake Victoria has risen above 200, while wooden coffins arrived at the scene.

Report says preliminary investigations show vessel carried more passengers than its capacity allowed

A Red Cross volunteer helps in the rescue operation near Ukerewe island in Lake Victoria. (Tanzania Red Cross/EPA-EFE)

Tanzania's state broadcaster says the death toll from a capsized ferry on Lake Victoria has risen to 218, while wooden coffins arrived at the scene.

The government's Chief Secretary John Kijazi spoke to reporters after Tanzanian President John Magufuli ordered the arrests of those allegedly responsible for the disaster.

The badly overloaded ferry capsized in the final stretch before shore on Thursday afternoon as people returning from a busy market day shifted and prepared to disembark.

Four navy divers resumed their search inside the sunken MV Nyerere early Saturday after hearing sounds that suggested signs of life.

They pulled one man out of the overturned ship and he was rushed to hospital, a Reuters witness said. His condition was not immediately known.

An aerial image shows the capsized ferry MV Nyerere in Lake Victoria, Tanzania. (AFP/Getty Images)

Dozens of relatives stood crying by the shoreline as they waited for information on their loved ones. Coffins were lined up nearby awaiting bodies being pulled from the vessel, which lay belly up in the water just metres from the shoreline.

 "The ferry overturned very fast and covered us," survivor Charles Ngarima told Reuters. "I was lucky that I was able to swim under water not knowing where I was swimming to."

Initial estimates suggested there were more than 300 people on board when ferry capsized just a few metres from the dock on Ukerewe, the lake's biggest island.

State-owned Habari Leo reported on its website on Friday that top officials of the Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority would be questioned about the accident.

Preliminary investigations, showed the ferry had carried more passengers than its capacity permitted, the paper said.

Thirty-seven people have been rescued from the lake, said Jonathan Shana, the regional police commander for the port of Mwanza on the south coast of the lake. 

Works, Transport and Communication Minister Isack Kamwelwe said the government was sending special equipment to aid the rescue effort.

 "This equipment will increase efficiency in the rescue operation and we will continue with the search until we are satisfied that we have rescued everyone," he told Reuters.

With files from Reuters