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Sixty people drowned and more than 80 others are missing in Wednesday’s ferry tragedy in Zanzibar.
Sixty people drowned and more than 80 others are missing in Wednesday’s ferry tragedy in Zanzibar.

By last evening, 146 passengers had been rescued and 60 bodies recovered as police said they had little hope of finding more survivors.

Twenty bodies were identified and buried. At the same time, Presidents Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and Ali Mohammed Shein of Zanzibar announced three days of mourning.

The ferry, Mv Star Gate, was carrying 290 passengers when it capsized in the Indian Ocean. Zanzibar police spokesman Mohamed Mhina said in a statement the vessel encountered bad whether at about 2pm on the way to Zanzibar from Dar es Salaam.

“Search operations continue but it is now almost impossible survivors will be found... The ship has completely sunk. There were 290 people on board,” said Mr Mhina.

“The weather was very bad, there were big waves and strong wind which also had hampered rescue operations and forced a halt overnight,” he added.

The accident sparked uproar in Parliament and in the streets, where the government was accused of laxity in enforcing safety in maritime transport.

Maritime tragedy

The ferry sank barely a year after Mv Spice Islander capsized in one of the continent’s worst maritime tragedies, killing more than 800 people. About 600 passengers were rescued and only 197 bodies were recovered.

Mv Star Gate was operated by Sea Gull, whose other ferry, Mv Fatih, sunk at Malindi quay, also in Zanzibar in 2009, killing six people on board.

Budget debate sessions in the Union Parliament in Dodoma and the House of Representatives in Zanzibar were postponed for a day in solidarity with the bereaved families.

In separate statements, Mr Kikwete and Dr Shein described the incident as a big loss to the nation and appealed for calm.

Dr Shein, who toured the makeshift camp to condole with the bereaved and inspect rescue operations, said the government would bear the costs of treatment for the survivors and burial expenses. Investigations, he said, were underway to establish what led to the accident.

In Dodoma, National Assembly Speaker Anne Makinda suspended business as soon as the minister of State for Policy Coordination, Mr William Lukuvi, gave an official statement on the tragedy.

The Speaker said MPs’ sitting allowances for the day would be donated to help families of the victims.

Mr Lukuvi said the ferry had 290 passengers, 250 of them adults, 31 children and nine crew members. Among the passengers were 16 tourists out of whom 14 survived. One died and the other is missing.

MPs blamed the tragedies in the ocean on corruption and negligence by the Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority. Ferries often carry additional passengers who do not feature on the official manifest.