(eTN) – News broke earlier today but took a while to confirm and fully ascertain, that a ferry with reportedly over 600 people on board between Unguja, commonly referred to as Zanzibar and Pemba, sunk after capsizing, 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. Foreign tourists were reportedly on board the ferry, but the nationalities of the bodies recovered could not at this stage be confirmed until autopsies have gone underway and identities could be formally confirmed.
When going to press, over 160 bodies had been recovered by fishing boats and other vessels, which rushed to the aid of the stricken ferry, but many more passengers are missing and must be presumed dead by now. About 250 passengers out of the 600 on board were rescued and are either undergoing medical treatment or have been treated and discharged.
The ferry was reportedly often overloaded with passengers and cargo but authorities, though aware of the practice, did apparently little to step in and enforce loading limits, as it was one of the few links between the two islands. New ferries, promised time and again by the Tanzanian government, have for long been awaited, and according to a source in Dar es Salaam, this was an accident waiting to happen.
Backpackers and budget tourists often use the ferry to get to Pemba in the absence of other affordable transport and the wananchi, of course, must use it; they have no choice at all to get from one island to the other. There has always been talk of mechanical problems, but nothing ever came of it.
The sinking of the ferry exposes a great weakness in the system of supervision and regulating marine transport, and who really knows what went on behind the scenes to have this ship continue to operate and officials looking the other way.
In January this year and in May last year, two overloaded boats sank in the vicinity, too, with dozens of passengers drowned in both instances, indicating that regulations were either lax or not enforced, laying blame squarely on the ferry operators and the authorities charged with supervising ocean transport.
The eTN Africa team expresses their sorrow and extends condolences to the families and friends of those lost in this terrible tragedy.