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Maritime Tragedy in East Africa

Zanzibar government denies knowledge of owners of sunken ferry

Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Uganda  Sep 13, 2011

(eTN) - In an extraordinary, though not unprecedented turn of events, the government of Zanzibar has reportedly denied having any knowledge of the registered owners of the MV Spice Islander. The Spice Islander is the ferry between Unguja - commonly referred to as Zanzibar - and Pemba, that capsized and sunk on September 10, 2011 with over 600 or 800 people on board - the number has yet to be determined - leaving scores of passengers dead in the water and others struggling to survive by clinging on to debris until they could be pulled out of the water by rescuers.

Registration and licensing of ocean going vessels, however, has been confirmed to be a function of government by tourism stakeholders, one of whom said this in an email overnight:

"This is not just unreal but almost mocking those seeking answers, those who lost relatives on the islands. How can a government claim not to be aware of the owners and it is the same government giving them a license.

"We are also disturbed about conflicting figures, some of which put the total passengers to over 800 and then government mouthpieces try to shrink these figures to within the licensed number. What is going on here?

"The tragedy was avoidable if only rules were enforced. There is notorious corruption across all outlets of public services, and they are now just trying to whitewash the whole thing.

"It is high time that government brings us new safe ferries, which can be used to travel from one island to the other without risking our lives every time one sets foot on board."

The central government in Dar es Salaam did, according to media reports, release 300 million Tanzania Ssillings to assist bereaved families with funeral expenses.

The official number of casualties was given by a Zanzibar government spokesperson as just under 200 with nearly 600 survivors, which would put the overall number of passengers on board well over the licensed figure permitted. There is also no certainty over the number of bodies not yet recovered, as apparently no complete passenger manifest was produced prior to the ferry leaving for its last ill-fated journey to Pemba.

Reconciling survivors and casualties is, therefore, literally impossible for the authorities in Zanzibar. It is understood that Kenyan authorities are now also keeping a watch along the shores from across the Pemba Channel, in case any bodies would be spotted across the international border.

A legal aid organization is planning to sue Zanzibar's government and others involved for negligence.

Zanzibar government denies knowledge of owners of sunken ferry
Relatives try to identify pictures of bodies of those who perished. / AP Photo via

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