Kampala: The death toll from a boat accident on Lake Albert in western Uganda has reached 107, Ugandan police said on Monday, a drastic rise from the figure of 19 dead given hours after the boat capsized on Saturday.
Charles Ssebambulidde, the police commander for Uganda`s Albertine region, said that rescue teams pulled scores of bodies mostly women from the lake over the weekend.
Lake Albert lies on the Uganda-Congo border, and most of the drowning victims were Congolese refugees returning home from a resettlement camp, according to the United Nations refugee agency and Ugandan officials.
Ssebambulidde said the authorities confirmed the boat carried more than 150 passengers as well as their belongings when it capsized. That boat, which is now in police custody, should only have carried 80 people without luggage, he said.
"This tragedy has shocked me profoundly," U.N. Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in a statement sent from Geneva. "My thoughts are with those who have lost dear ones, and the survivors. I am grateful to the government and other actors who have mounted a rescue-and-recovery operation and are assisting the survivors."
The UN statement said as many as 250 people may have been aboard the boat, one of two transporting Congolese refugees returning home, suggesting the death toll could rise even further as more bodies are recovered. Only 41 people have been rescued.
Boat accidents are common in Uganda, as transport providers take advantage of lax policing to load their boats with more passengers than they can safely transport.
Ssebambulidde, the Ugandan police official, said it appeared the victims of the latest accident were so desperate to return home that they did not bother about safety. He said the boat was clearly "overloaded."
Uganda hosts more than 320,000 refugees and asylum seekers from violence-prone neighboring countries. More than 175,000 of them are Congolese, according to the UN refugee agency.