Ferry accident reveals full scale of disaster


(eTN) – The Tanzanian government appears shell shocked over leaks of the long-awaited and well nearly locked-up report of the commission of enquiry, and was seemingly unable to answer allegations as the 50th anniversary of independence from Britain approaches.

Information received from both Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam indicate that the figures previously published, and very grudgingly raised as more and more relatives came forward claiming to have lost family members, was grossly, if not outright deliberately understated by official organizations of government.

Figures now leaked, in spite of extensive measures to keep the report under wraps, talk of as many as 2,764 people still missing from the fatal sinking of the ferry MV Spice Islander I, which was enroute from Unguja island to Pemba island and sunk less than 2 hours into the journey.

The stricken vessel, licensed to carry no more than 600 passengers, had according to the report, nearly 6 times as many passengers on board as she sailed, already banking to the side. The official report is quoted to have mentioned 3,586 passengers on board.

It was also established that only about 100 life vests were available for the sanctioned 600 passengers, and that the manifest was obviously falsified showing a relatively lower figure of only 610 on board. This, if indeed true – as one would expect the report of a fully-fledged Commission of Enquiry to be – would make it one of peacetime’s worst maritime disasters in history and for sure the worst in East Africa’s history.

It has also been suggested that any insurance, if any had in fact been taken out, would probably invalidate as a result of evident fraud on the manifest and the gross negligence on part of the owners and the ship’s master in taking excessive numbers of travelers on board, which could invalidate insurance covers.

Government mouthpieces, trying hard to contain the damage done by the report to the image of Tanzania abroad at the time of the Golden Jubilee Independence, were swift to blame double accounting and multiple reporting of missing persons. This notion, however, was rejected by the commissioners who had spent weeks in reconciling the reports of missing travelers filed by their families.

From usually well-informed sources, it is also understood that pressure has been applied on the commission’s members to “moderate their figures” when the final version of the report is due to be handed in on November 15, not an unlikely scenario by any standards considering how governments in this region have in the past “contained” such damaging information. In this case, it fully exposed a supervision and licensing machinery completely failing to live up to any acceptable standards.