MUKONO, Uganda — At least 30 people have died in Uganda after a party boat carrying more than 90 people capsized in Lake Victoria near the capital, Kampala, officials said on Sunday.
The boat overturned and sank about 7 p.m. Saturday, said a senior police officer, Zurah Ganyana. She said that 27 people were rescued overnight. Officials said the death toll was expected to rise.
Officials said the boat had been taking passengers on a pleasure cruise, a popular weekend activity for young people in Kampala, but it capsized close to shore.
Officer Ganyana said the boat had been in poor condition and had been grounded for some time. She said it did not have a valid license to operate.
Early Sunday, a police helicopter hovered low over the spot where the boat sank, as a team of divers searched for bodies under calm waters. A crowd of onlookers stood on a beach and watched the rescue and recovery efforts.
The police carried victims’ bodies in tarpaulins to a truck, occasionally drawing loud wails from some of the onlookers. One young woman, seeing a victim she apparently recognized, collapsed and was take to the hospital.
The couple who owned the boat were believed to be among the victims, according Officer Ganyana.
Witnesses who were there on Saturday night said they had heard people calling for help as they tried to stay afloat and saw others trying to swim ashore. Many were women.
“They were shouting, ‘Help us! Help us!’ and the boat was sinking very quickly,” said Sam Tukei, one of several local men who used fishermen’s canoes to rescue people. “By the time the police came, we had saved many people.”
One reason many people died so close to shore was likely because of “intoxication,” said Asuman Mugenyi, the national director of police operations. Citing the accounts of some survivors, he said there had been a good number of life jackets aboard the doomed vessel that passengers did not wear.
The boat’s passengers most likely panicked when the vessel started to sink, he said.
Boat accidents are increasingly common on East Africa’s major lakes, including Lake Victoria, which is surrounded by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
More than 200 people were killed in September after a dangerously overcrowded Tanzanian ferry capsized, officials said.