(eTN) – Four people were charged in a Zanzibar court on Saturday for being responsible for the death of over 200 passengers when a Tanzania ferry sunk enroute from Unguja to Pemba.
Those charged include a reported shareholder, the first officer on duty at the time the ferry sunk, and an official of the ports authority in charge of inspections of vessels.
The first accused, the captain of the ferry, is, however, still at large as he fled the scene of the disaster and has not yet been traced in spite of intense searches by policy and security organizations.
The ferry, reportedly already leaning to the side while still in port due to poor cargo loading, sailed heavily overloaded and sunk when hitting rough seas on the open ocean between the two islands, leaving over 200 people dead, with more allegedly missing and trapped in the wreck. South African divers failed to reach the sunk vessel to ascertain if and how many bodies were trapped inside, partly due to bad weather and partly due to the reported fact that they could not descend that deep to the ocean floor in the absence of special equipment.
It is understood that bail was denied for the accused who were remanded in custody, and more people may still be charged with the same offenses, as the prosecution is compiling more evidence. The fact that the charges were brought within a week after the sinking of the ferry is testimony to the strong emotions within the island community and the sense by government to have failed the public’s safety by not using existing regulations to enforce load limits and even withdraw licenses for ships not seaworthy.
Officials are also quiet on the urgent question of insurance coverage, which could at least help the relatives of those who died in the accident with some financial compensation. There is speculation that if at all there was adequate insurance coverage, something some sources deny even existed, the insurance would pull out as a result of the gross misconduct by the crew who deliberately overloaded the vessel causing any insurance coverage to lapse.
The Tanzanian government had, on learning the breaking news, released some 300 million Tanzanian shillings to assist families with burial expenses, but it is now up to the court to establish the level of culpability and what damages will eventually awarded to the victims’ families. Materializing any claims will be most unlikely should the owners of the shipping company go into administration and eventual bankruptcy.