Last Thursday, at roughly 2:00PM, a Tanzanian ferry — MV Nyerere, with an official passenger capacity of 100, but carrying 265 passengers in total — overturned and capsized on Lake Victoria, while attempting to dock near Ukara Island. According to media reports, the ferry accident has thus far claimed at least 224 lives, and the Tanzanian government has ordered the arrests of all involved in the operation of the ferry, along with a national day of mourning.
Though details are still rather fuzzy — and the investigation is currently ongoing — it appears as though the vessel capsized when passengers aboard MV Nyerere clambered too quickly to one side in an attempt to disembark. This caused the vessel to turn over, trapping most of the passengers and crew members inside. Only 41 passengers and crew members survived the incident, though rescue divers and boats are continuing to search the area.
The country of Tanzania is no stranger to significant maritime accidents — in 1996, a large ferry on Lake Victoria capsized, killing 894 passengers and crew members in one of the deadliest ferry accidents of the 20th century. Opposition politicians claim that the present incident (MV Nyerere sinking) is a natural consequence of the current leadership’s negligent regulatory oversight and indicative of their poor track record.
Here at Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A., we are truly disturbed by the MV Nyerere disaster, and the losses suffered by those aboard the vessel and their families. It is a heartbreaking situation, made even worse by the death toll and the fact that the accident was almost certainly preventable.
Given that the ferry operators were most likely negligent, passengers, crew members, and their families almost certainly have actionable claims for damages.
Ferry Operators Must Avoid Overloading Vessels and Must Be Careful When Directing Passengers
Ferry operators owe passengers a duty of reasonable care under the circumstances. Ferry owners must also provide crewmember with a seaworthy vessel. These duties must be incompliance with numerous industry standards and international conventions including the Safety of Life at Sea also known as SOLAS. Generally, ferry operators who adhere to applicable rules and regulations can avoid the worst sort of accidents. In the present case, however, the ferry operators appear to have violated numerous regulations and failed to act reasonably given the circumstances, thus contributing to the deadly capsizing incident at-issue.
The facts of the case are telling.
MV Nyerere was overloaded with passengers and cargo. Reports indicate that the route served by the vessel was heavily trafficked, with eight trips conducted daily. On the day of the capsizing incident, MV Nyerere was loaded with over two-and-a-half times its maximum capacity of 100 (the vessel was carrying 265 in total), along with significant amounts of heavy cargo, such as cement and food stores. Given that the vessel was so overloaded, even minor fluctuations in balance could cause it to overturn and capsize.
When MV Nyerere was a mere 50 meters from the shore, passengers naturally moved towards the side to quicken the disembarkation process. Crew members did not adequately direct passengers to avoid this sudden movement, however. All these factors caused the vessel to overturn and capsize. The severity of the accident was heightened by the amount of passengers aboard MV Nyerere, as it was even more difficult for passengers to escape the capsized vessel when surrounded by the utter chaos of 265 flailing persons desperately attempting to survive — some of whom were capable of swimming, and others who could not actually swim.
Ferry operators who overload their vessels — as in the present case — are negligent, and are almost certainly liable for the injuries and deaths caused when it is clear that the negligence (i.e., overloading) contributed significantly to the incident at-issue.
We Can Help
If you or a family member have sustained injuries (or if you’ve lost a family member) in a ferry accident, on a cruise ship or while on a recreational boat, then you may be entitled to damages as compensation for your losses. Ship owners and operators must exercise reasonable care when transporting passengers, at every stage of the journey, including warning passengers of foreseeable dangers — failure to do so could expose others to an unreasonable and heightened risk of injury, or death.
Ferry operators may attempt to avoid liability by terminating the employment of negligent crew members, attempting to misconstrue the circumstances of the accident to place the blame of passengers, or otherwise mishandling the investigation. As such, you’ll want to consult a qualified maritime attorney who is capable of effectively navigating these complicated issues on your behalf.
Here at Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A., our attorneys have over a century of combined experience litigating various maritime and admiralty claims against cruise lines and ferry operators, including those who are headquartered abroad and primarily operate in international waters. We are no strangers to the strategies typically employed by ferry operators in such disputes, and as such, we are well-positioned to undermine those arguments and develop a persuasive argument on your behalf.
Though the ferry in the present case capsized in Lake Victoria, in Tanzania, the ferry operator is not necessarily shielded from liability for the damages caused by its negligence. Here at Lipcon, our attorneys have extensive experience securing favorable verdicts and settlements in courtrooms throughout the United States and worldwide.
Would you like to learn more about your claims, and how to proceed? Contact an experienced maritime lawyer at Lipcon for a full case evaluation.