Disaster at sea

More than 100 people are feared dead after a ferry travelling from Dar es Salaam capsized few kilometres from Zanzibar town.

Shock and disbelief engulfed many people on hearing the news, less than a year after a major marine disaster hit the archipelago in September last year when about 800 perished after another ship, Mv Spice Islanders capsized on its way to Pemba.

The accident took place at Pungume, about 48km from Zanzibar. There were conflicting statements on the number of people who boarded the passenger and cargo ferry christened Mv Skagit, those who were rescued and bodies that were retrieved from the sunken ship.

While some sources said 200 people were on board, others said there were about 400 passengers when the ship left Dar es Salaam port.

As of 7.30pm, 138 people had been rescued from the ship and 17 bodies had been retrieved. Twelve tourists were among those rescued. 

The bodies of two children and one adult had been recovered from the sea as at 6.05pm yesterday, with the rescue mission by police, marine authorities and private parties at full blast. Anxious relatives gathered at Zanzibar Port soon after reports of the disaster spread, trying to get information on the status of their relatives.

The deputy permanent secretary in the second Vice President Office, Mr Said Shaaban, confirmed the accident but could not give further information.  It is widely believed, though, that bad weather could be one of the causes.

Mr Shaaban said: “It is very unfortunate and I am sorry to confirm that the accident has indeed occurred and rescue operations are underway... we have already dispatched rescue teams t the scene to assist the survivors.”

An official of the Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA), Dr Hamza Kabelwa, told the BBC’s Swahili service that there were strong winds over the Indian Ocean yesterday as a result of high pressure in the area and TMA had warned marine vessels of the situation.   “Our predictions show that the condition will persist until tomorrow (today),” he said.  “Therefore, marine travellers should be careful.”

Unconfirmed reports said that about 400 passengers, including 31 children,  were on board the ship owned by a company called Seagull when it left Dar es Salaam Port at midday yesterday. It was scheduled to arrive in Zanzibar at around 3.30pm but reportedly capsized midway at around 1.30pm.

Various government officials, including the second Vice President, Ambassador Seif Ali Iddi, were at the port alongside the minister for Communication and Infrastructure, Hamad Masoud Hamad, whose docket includes marine transport. They boarded boats to get to the scene of the accident. Earlier reports said about 10 people managed to escape from the sinking ship. Rescuers said about 60 people were trapped in the ship. Police and other rescuers were working hard to get to the bodies.

Four boats, including some from the government and Azam Marine, a private ferry company, were dispatched to the scene soon after the news broke to help in the rescue operations.

Ambassador Iddi asked people gathered at the port to be calm and wait at home for news on further developments.

He assured the public that the government would do everything within its powers to rescue passengers on the ship. But rescue boats could not leave immediately for the accident scene because of a reported lack of fuel.
Source: The Citizen,http://www.thecitizen.co.tz, reported by Salma Said,

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