World News‎ > ‎

Ferry with 500 plus passengers sinks off Tanzania

posted 10 Sep 2011, 04:41 by Mpelembe   [ updated 10 Sep 2011, 04:50 ]

Zanzibari fishermen help rescue survivors when a ferry carrying more than 500 passengers sinks off the Tanzanian coast.

AT SEA, TANZANIA (SEPTEMBER 10, 2011) (REUTERS At least 40 people died and scores were still missing after a ferry carrying more than 500 passengers from Zanzibar to Pemba island off the east African country of Tanzania capsized, officials said on Saturday (September 10).

Witnesses fear the death toll could rise sharply and fishing boats and tour operators are scouring the sea for those still missing in the disaster, which happened overnight.

Thousands of people lined the white sand beaches at the northern tip of Zanzibar island, awaiting survivors and information. Local people fear hundreds have died. Minister of State Mohammed Aboud told reporters on Saturday at least 40 were confirmed dead.

At the popular tourist destination of Nungwi, fishing boats and diving tour vessels ferried survivors ashore, a dozen or fewer at a time, and crowds waded waist deep in the water as the boats approached shore, desperately searching for relatives.

Zanzibar, also know as Unguja, and Pemba are the two main islands of the Zanzibar archipelago, a popular destination for tourists visiting their pristine Indian Ocean beaches.

Zanzibar Police Commissioner Mussa Alli Mussa told Reuters the ship's manifest shows that the vessel travelling from Unguja to Pemba islands had more than 500 passengers on board.

He said some 260 passengers had so far been rescued and that bodies had been recovered.

Pemba is about 40 km (25 miles) from Zanzibar. Passengers who regularly take ferries between the two islands said the vessels are in a poor state of repair and are often overcrowded and loaded with cargo.

Abdual Said, registrar of Zanzibar's seafaring vessels, told Reuters the capsized ferry, MV Spice, was licensed to carry 600 passengers.

Two small overloaded boats capsized and were swept away in high seas off Tanzania's coast in January this year and in May 2009, a vessel just off Zanzibar sank with dozens aboard, killing six.

Police commissioner Mussa said rescue workers with the aid of some fishing boats in the area were helping to rescue more passengers and recover bodies to bring them to Zanzibar's main town for post-mortems and identification.