Terrible news from Ghana, where a ferry has sunk in Lake Volta on Saturday afternoon. Ghana’s man-made lake – centerpiece of Nkrumah’s strategy to create economic independence for Ghana through electric power generation and aluminum smelting – is a major obstacle to travel in the east of the country, and ferry travel is a major way to link together the villages and small cities that line the banks of the lake.
Early reports suggest that there were 150 passengers on the boat… which was designed to hold 70 passengers. There’s always a period of hand-wringing about overloaded transport when maritime disasters happen in Africa… but in this case, there may be a government agency to blame for the disaster. The Daily Graphic is reporting that the passengers on the boat were settlers who’d illegally established homes in a forest reserve near Dudzome. The Graphic says that Forest Commission officials “forced” passengers onto the boat, along with their personal effects and livestock, creating a situation where the boat was badly overloaded. It struck a submerged stump, took on water, and sank.
Current reports say that only three bodies have been recovered, while thirty or forty survivors have been rescued. The remaining 100-110 passengers are still unaccounted for and are presumed dead. A team investigating the accident has described Lake Volta as “a death trap” due to obstacles like submerged trees and rocks. This is, unfortunately, one of the consequences of creating a lake by flooding an area the size of small European nations… the lake is filled with the debris of villages displaced by the water. It’s also a bit of an exaggeration – tourist cruises on the lake are common, and many ferries ply the waters. But submerged obstacles and massively overloaded vessels are a disaster waiting to happen.
I hope we’ll get some good news about the other passengers – if 30 or 40 survived, is it possible that more will be rescued as well? It will be interesting to see whether the Forestry Commission takes responsibility for the disaster – the fact that the story is being reported in the Graphic (historically a government-controlled paper) suggests that the connection to the Commission is more than rumor…