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Disasters

Zanzibar ferry disaster raises fresh safety concerns

The official death toll continues to rise following a ferry disaster off Zanzibar. Relatives and residents vent their anger at the authorities for failing to ensure adequate safety measures.

Time was running out on Zanzibar. Rescue workers continued to fight the rough seas and heavy winds on Thursday in a desperate search to find any remaining survivors of the ferry disaster. An overcrowded ferry had capsized and sunk on Wednesday near the Indian Ocean archipelago.

Of the 290 passengers and crew members on board the MV Skagit/Kalama, 145 have been rescued. At least 38 people, including an American citizen, were confirmed dead, according to local police. “You can say it is not humanly possible to find anyone alive at this point," Zanzibar Police Commissioner said, as helicopters and rescue boats continued to scan the rough sea.

Details still sketchy

Relatives and friends gathered to identify the bodies of victims laid out at a park near the old quarter of Zanzibar. “Bodies are still being recovered and continue to arrive at the mortuary,” Eddie Riyami, a former seaman helping with the rescue operations told DW.

Local residents, Riyami said, were angry at officials: “It took a long while for the first boat to reach the accident site.” Details of what exactly happened were still sketchy, Riyami confirmed. The passenger ferry set off from Dar-es-Salaam and sunk some six miles off the coast of Chumbe island, west of Zanzibar. “The ship did not send off a distress signal”, Riyami said.

Relatives gathered at the pier

Relatives gathered at the pier in Zanzibar after a ferry sank with more than 290 people on board

Ferries notoriously overcrowded

Angry residents said that ships are notoriously overcrowded and there are few, if any, inspections to ensure their safety. The ferry had a maximum carrying capacity of 250 people. However, it was carrying at least 290 people, including at least 30 children, according to marine officials. It is not unusual for ferries in the region to carry additional passengers who do not appear on any passenger lists.

“The government has killed all these people. They must bring the owner of the boat to us,” a resident who was still waiting for news of his brother's fate, was quoted by Reuters news agency.

Second major disaster in a year

This is the second major ferry disaster in the region. In September more than 200 people died in one of the worst maritime disasters in Africa in the last decade when the ferry Spice Islander capsized. Tanzanian President Jakaya Kiwete ordered an investigation into the accident.

Meanwhile, the desperate rescue operations continued off Zanzibar's sandy beaches that are popular with tourists. More than 24 hours after the disaster the chances of finding any survivors were slim, Riyami said. “But miracles are possible,” he added.

DW.DE