Scores dead, 300 missing in Zanzibar ferry accident

At least 43 people died when a ferry capsized off the coast of Zanzibar, but around 300 people are feared still missing, a minister in the semi-autonomous archipelago said on Saturday.

“So far we have recovered 43 people who died, but we have rescued 259 survivors,” said Mohammed Aboud, Zanzibar’s state minister for emergencies, adding that 40 of those rescued were seriously injured.

Officials said that around 600 people were believed to have been on the stricken ferry, including families returning home after the holidays to celebrate the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The exact number of passengers on this type of ferry is often difficult to establish as no reliable passenger lists are kept.

“We have asked for emergency assistance from Dar es Salaam, including divers, to help in the rescue efforts,” Aboud said.


Carrying cargo
The MV Spice Islander, which was travelling between Zanzibar’s main island Unguja and Pemba, two of the three islands that make up Zanzibar, had left Unguja around 9pm and capsized four hours later.

It was reportedly carrying a heavy cargo of rice and other goods.

“Rescue operations are being hampered by a lack of equipment,” deputy secretary of state for infrastructure and communication Issa Gavu said.

However, survivors have begun arriving back in Stone Town, the main port and capital of the archipelago, with an emergency first aid centre set up in the port to treat those arriving by rescue speed boat from the capsized boat.

No foreigners have so far been reported amongst either the dead or rescued, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

Ferries have a poor safety record in Tanzania. In May 2009, a ferry capsized leaving six people dead, while several fires on cargo boats have been reported in recent years.

Passengers who regularly take ferries between the two islands said the vessels are in a poor state of repair and are often overcrowded and loaded with cargo.

“They normally pack us in like sardines in a can. And for that I really fear this could be a very big disaster,” said resident Mwnakhamis Juma.

Disaster
The government in Zanzibar said in August it planned to invest in bigger, more reliable vessels to ferry passengers between the two islands.

“We are fearing the greatest calamity in the history of Zanzibar. This is a disaster,” said a government official, who declined to be named.

Mussa said rescue workers with the aid of some fishing boats in the area were helping to rescue more passengers and recover bodies to bring them to Zanzibar’s main town for post-mortems and identification.

“Because of strong ocean winds, some of the bodies could even be washed up in Tanga [mainland Tanzania],” he said. “The cause of the accident cannot be confirmed at the moment.”

A parent in Mkoani on Pemba island was already mourning his three children, who were aboard the vessel capsized MV Spice.

“I had two sons and a daughter coming back to Pemba from a school holiday break … and I am fearing for the worse,” said Juma Bakar.

Tourism is the main foreign currency earner for Zanzibar, famed for its white-sand beaches and historical buildings in Stone Town, listed as a world heritage site by Unesco, the United Nations cultural organisation.

Pemba lies about 80km north-west of Unguja. — AFP, Reuters

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Poachers in prisons tell their stories

Interviews with offenders provide insight into the structure of illegal wildlife trade networks

Covid-overflow hospital in ruins as SIU investigates

A high-level probe has begun into hundreds of millions of rand spent by the Gauteng health department to refurbish a hospital that is now seven months behind schedule – and lying empty

More top stories

The politics of the Zuma-Zondo showdown

Any move made by the Zondo commission head or by former president Jacob Zuma must be calculated, because one mistake from either side could lead to a political fallout

Museveni declared winner of disputed Uganda election

Security personnel out in force as longtime president wins sixth term and main challenger Bobi Wine alleges rigging.

Pay-TV inquiry probes the Multichoice monopoly

Africa’s largest subscription television operator says it is under threat amid the emerging popularity of global platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime

​No apology or comfort as another Marikana mother dies without...

Nomawethu Ma’Bhengu Sompeta, whose funeral will be held this weekend, was unequivocal in calling out the government for its response to the Marikana massacre
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…