Five people have been confirmed dead while 20 others are missing following a boat accident that happened on Lake Malawi at Mlowe in Rumphi District on Sunday evening.
The victims were members of the Livingstonia Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) and were returning from Easter prayers when the accident happened. The Synod has since described the accident as a disaster.
The ill-fated boat which capsized due to high winds was carrying over 80 passengers, according to the church.
Presbytery Clerk for the Synod, Reverend Witcane Gama, said the Christians who boarded the boat from Mlowe docking area were destined for Mzunga, New and Old Salawe, Msuka and Tchalo which is a peninsula on the lake.
Sixty people managed to swim ashore while five bodies have so far been recovered as 20 other passengers are still missing.
The five bodies are all for women. The survivors have since been discharged.
Speaking in an interview, Synod General Secretary Reverend Levi Nyondo described the accident as a tragedy to the church that has never occurred in its history.
Nyondo, who was accompanied by other senior leaders of the synod, said a black cloud had fallen over the synod.
“This is a very sad moment. We cannot lose such a huge number of people. We ask all Malawians to mourn with us,” Nyondo said.
Rumphi Police Officer-in- Charge, Denis Banda, said his office still has no statistics on the actual number of people who were aboard the boat.
Banda, who identified the owner of the boat as Harrison Ngwira from Nkhata Bay, blamed the situation on boat’s captain, Bambalapa Ngwira, for failing to disclose the figures.
“It’s sad that the boat used was for fishing and cannot be used to ferry people. However, we hear that the boat was filled beyond capacity with people and goods as well. We are yet to charge the captain because that was recklessness,” Banda said
Meanwhile, the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) has joined the search for those involved in the accident on the lake.
Speaking to The Daily Times, one of the survivors, Iness Msowoya, 58, said the boat capsized over 150 metres off the shore.
“The weather was not good at all. After the captain noticed the boat was sinking, we started throwing people in water one by one. I saw my son being thrown into the water crying while waving at us. I have not seen him again since then,” Msowoya said amid sobs.
Another survivor, Alick Mkandawire, said the captain insisted to carry many people, arguing he was not making profits.
“We told him that his boat had a limited capacity but he did not listen. Now we could not do otherwise because that was the only means of transport to Tchalo,” Mkandawire said.
Matilda Longwe, 64, could not hold her tears when she recalled how some passengers were thrown into the lake as the boat began to sink.
“When the captain realised that we were sinking, he started pushing men into the water to save the situation. Then children were thrown out before we [women] were targeted,” she said.
Longwe said she survived because she sat on top of the capsized boat for close to an hour.
“We sang hymns on top of the boat as we waited for people to rescue us.
“Other boats came late to rescue us and we were taken to Mlowe Health Centre,” she said while fighting back her tears.