A first-hand account of what happened on the boat before it sunk into Lake Victoria

While many the when and where the Lake Victoria boat accident happened, little is known about what went on aboard the boat that eventually led it to capsize. 

Singer Irene Namubiru, who narrowly survived the horror narrated an account that might answer several questions on that most Ugandans have been asking since Saturday evening when the news broke. 

According to the singer, she had not even planned to go but was invited by her long-time friend Hope Mukasa on the very day of the boat cruise. Namubiru said that even when she arrived at K.K beach where the takeoff was, her gut told her not to board and she tried to leave thrice but was overpowered by pleas from Mukasa (the one who invited her) and businessman Kiyimba Freeman who was the host. 

Mechanical fault?

Although Namubiru’s host first called her at around 11 am inviting her to the cruise which would start at 12 pm, the boat did not arrive until after 6 pm. 

“I asked him what time they were leaving. He told me maybe in an hour, then he called back after a few minutes telling me; [we are leaving at 1:30 pm to be exact, so that leaves you 50 minutes.] At 1:30 he calls me and says; [You know what? Can you believe, we’re still here. We haven’t left yet.] Around 2:10 pm, Hope calls me again to tell me; [So you really are not coming? You should come. Come try it.”]

Namubiru couldn’t fend off Mukasa any longer. She drove to K.K beach and was there at 2:45 pm only to wait till for the boat to arrive. When the boat finally came, it could not even reach the shore for people to board. Small boats had to ferry people to the middle of the lake where it was stationed.

This was the first signal that the boat was not in good shape and she decided not to board it. But Freeman, the man who had been buying the alcohol for everyone waiting attempted to explain why the boat was acting weird. 

“You know, we were scheduled to leave around midday, but then the boat got issues, but eventually he has managed. He has come. Now it’s here. We can go. You know, the boat had a few hiccups.]” she narrated. 

Apparently even as they sailed, the boat was under repair and the lights kept occasionally going on and off. According to Namubiru, the engine failed and the boat stopped and water started oozing from underneath the boat.

“There were other boats passing by that realized we had a problem (this I learnt after the incident) and they warned that we were about to capsize. They came closer and asked for those who wanted to leave the boat. Some 15 people left and others were too drunk to care.

“The skippers were unqualified. They even jumped off the boat minutes before when they couldn’t do anything any more and left us to die.”

Alcohol question

At K.K beach, Namubiru says the people were already drinking alcohol “as if it was their last day.” She adds that when they finally got on the boat, the DJs immediately warned the revellers to balance the boat but since most of them were already drunk, they did not heed to the call. 

“Booze was flowing. There was every kind of alcohol. People were downing double Black Labels and other whiskeys and Cognac like it was their last day. And anything you asked for, you were served by the bottle, it was always a full bottle for one person,” she added. 

When the boat started tilting to one side, Namubiru realised that chances of the boat capsizing were imminent and so she shouted to the DJ to tell the people exactly which side they should go.

“I realized the boat was always bending on that one side where I was, and the DJ kept on telling us “balance the boat, please balance the boat,” but people got on that boat drunk already. At one point I shouted to the DJ; [tell them where exactly you want them to go to balance the boat.”]

When the boat capsized, everyone was on their own now. According to Namubiru, people were screaming, wailing and others repenting. 

In the end, 32 people have been confirmed dead while 26 were rescued alive. Over 60 others are still an accounted for. By press time, parts of the wreckage had been pulled out of the water after three days of trying.