Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sinking feeling in Zanzibar over slow response to ship accident

Zanzibari President Abeid Karume (second from left) with ministers and port authority officials at the scene of the ship accident on Saturday. Three bodies have been recovered from the cargo ship which capsized on Friday. Photos/ MPOKI BUKUKU

Zanzibari President Abeid Karume (second from left) with ministers and port authority officials at the scene of the ship accident on Saturday. Three bodies have been recovered from the cargo ship which capsized on Friday. Photos/ MPOKI BUKUKU  

By SALMA SAID in Zanzibar

Lack of appropriate emergency rescue equipment and slow response to disaster returned to haunt Tanzania’s marine transport on Saturday as divers struggled for hours to find survivors of a ship accident in Zanzibar.

Three bodies had been recovered by yesterday from MV Fatih which capsized as it prepared to anchor at the Malindi Port. Local police chief Bakari Khatib Shaaban confirmed the deaths.

At least 27 people swam to safety. Eight others were reported missing in the 10 p.m. accident.

The cargo ship owned by Seagul Company Limited was sailing from Dar es Salaam to Pemba via Zanzibar.

“It was preparing to anchor and most of us were heading out when it suddenly tilted and overturned,” said Ms Halima Mussa, a resident of Arusha, who was among the survivors.

Rekindled memories

The accident rekindled memories of the MV Bukoba that sunk in Lake Victoria in 1996 killing more than 800 people.

Last month another ship headed for the Comoros Island from the Tanga Port also sunk and is believed to have killed an estimated 20 people whose bodies have since not been recovered.

Relatives of the victims and businessmen whose cargo sunk with the ship were angry at rescuers arriving more than 10 hours after the accident.

“The ship sunk at 10 p.m. but those sent to help came this morning at 9 a.m.,” said Mr Ali Hajji, who said his relative was in the vessel.

“It is annoying because they arrived without any equipment and are as helpless as we are. All of us are just watching, save for the divers who have not recovered anything.”

There were 30 divers at the scene.

Zanzibar President Amani Abeid Karume and several ministers and members of the House of Representatives and opposition leaders were among those who went to the port to monitor rescue efforts.

Mr Karume urged the rescue teams to double their efforts and told the Zanzibar port authorities to ask for help from Dar es Salaam.

Opposition Civic United Front Secretary General Seif Shariff Hammad blamed the rescue teams and port authorities for not keeping appropriate equipment to respond to disasters.

It was not immediately possible to know the exact number of people on board the MV Fatih at the time of the accident.

The ship’s coxswain, Mr Ussi Ali Ussi, who was being held by the police for questioning, said it was carrying 25 passengers and 13 crew members when it sunk. Survivors claimed there were more than 50 people aboard.

The coxswain said it had also 40 tonnes of cargo. But the Surface and Marine Tranport Authority spokesperson in Dar es Salaam Mr David Mziray said it left with 70 tonnes of cargo, including vehicles, rice and cement.

The coxswain reportedly told the police that he experienced problems with his steering as he approached the port. Other accounts showed the ship may have been overloaded.

advertisement