At least 43 dead in Zanzibar ferry disaster, 300 missing

2011-09-10 10:12

At least 43 people died when a ferry capsized off Zanzibar but around 300 people are feared still missing, a minister in the semi-autonomous archipelago said today.

“So far we have recovered 43 people who died but we have rescued 259 survivors,” said Mohammed Aboud, Zanzibar’s state minister for emergencies, adding that 40 of those rescued were seriously injured.

Officials said around 600 people were believed to have been on the stricken ferry, including families returning home after the holidays to celebrate the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The exact number of passengers on this type of ferry is often difficult to establish as no reliable passenger lists are kept.

“We have asked for emergency assistance from Dar es Salaam, including divers, to help in the rescue efforts,” Aboud said.

The MV Spice Islander, which was travelling between Zanzibar’s main island, Unguja, and Pemba, two of the three islands that make up Zanzibar, had left Unguja at about 9pm and capsized four hours later. It was reportedly carrying a heavy cargo of rice and other goods.

“Rescue operations are being hampered by a lack of equipment,” deputy secretary of state for infrastructure and communication Issa Gavu said.

However, survivors have begun arriving back in Stone Town, the main port and capital of the archipelago. An emergency First Aid centre has been set up in the port to treat those arriving by rescue speed boat from the capsized boat.

No foreigners have so far been reported among either the dead or rescued, a reporter on the scene said.

Ferries have a poor safety record in Tanzania. In May 2009 a ferry capsized, leaving six people dead, while several fires on cargo boats have been reported in recent years.

Tourism is the main foreign currency earner for Zanzibar, famed for its white-sand beaches and historical buildings in Stone Town, listed as a world heritage site by Unesco, the United Nations cultural organisation.

Pemba lies some 80kms north-west of Unguja.

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