Ferry sinks in Tanzania's Lake Victoria, 44 confirmed dead

The Tanzanian government fears more than 200 people drowned after a ferry sunk on Thursday in Tanzania's Lake Victoria, a senior local official said. Forty-four people have already been confirmed dead and that the rescue mission had been halted until dawn on Friday.

Vessel goes down just metres from dock, with estimated 300 people onboard

Rescue operations continued Friday after a ferry went down in Lake Victoria, in Tanzania's Ukerewe district, in this photo by Kenya-based reporter Teddy Eugene. (Twitter/@teddyeugene)

At least 44 people drowned when a ferry sank in Tanzania's Lake Victoria on Thursday, and government officials fear the final death toll could be more than 200, a senior local official said.

Ukerewe District Commissioner Colonel Lucas Magembe told Reuters that the rescue mission to find survivors from the disaster had been halted until dawn on Friday.

John Mongella, the commissioner of Mwanza, said 37 people have been rescued after Thursday's capsizing.

Initial estimates showed that the MV Nyerere was carrying more than 300 people. It went down in the afternoon just a few metres from the dock in Ukerewe district, according to national ferry services operator TEMESA said.

But it was hard to establish the precise number of passengers on board since the person dispensing tickets had also drowned, and the machine recording the data was lost.

TEMESA spokesperson Theresia Mwami said the operator had carried out maintenance on the ferry in recent months, overhauling two engines.

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

In 2012, at least 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.

With files from The Associated Press