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Remembering 2011/2012 Zanzibar marine disasters

OMAR Kombo, 20, was eleven years old when his parents were drowned after a passenger ferry they were in, MV Spice Islanders sunk on September 10, 2011.

“I was still very young when the accident happened, but it would have been avoided if the responsible staff at the port and ship did their work well. I ask the government marine disasters should not happen again,” Kombo said.

Many people recall the tragedy of the sinking of Mv Spice Islanders while on its way to Pemba Island killing more than 300 people. Many of those who were on board during the accident were heard screaming and calling for help. They died because of lack of rescue equipment and skills.

A similar accident happened less than a year later in July 2012, when Mv Skagit sailing from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar capsized, killing more than 200. Many complained that Mv Skagit like Mv Spice Islanders had been allowed to leave the port overloaded with passengers and cargo, despite an earlier warning of possible strong wind during the day.

It was a challenge to try to trace those who were rescued and children left orphans following the two accidents, but one of the diver, who helped to rescue people recalls that some people were saved by mattresses. Many believe that the tragedies were caused by overloading of passengers and cargo in a rough sea.

“The ferry, M.V. Spice Islanders, was heavily overloaded, and shortly after leaving the port there were signs of possible sinking, but crews and ports officer neglected,” said one of rescue divers who preferred anonymity. He remembers that the boat sank in an area with heavy currents in deep sea between Nungwi and Pemba Island at about 1 a.m.

In search for facts about the marine disasters, President Ali Mohammed Shein formed a commission of inquiry tasked to probe into the September 10, 2011 and the July 18 2012 ferry disasters. The commission was led by Zanzibar High Court Judge Abdulhakim Ameir Issa.

The ten-member probe team was the Tanzania People’s Defence Forces Navy Commander Major General Said Shaaban Omar, Commander of the Zanzibar Navy (KMKM), Hassan Mussa Mzee, Mr Abdallah Yussuf Jumbe, Mr Abdallah Juma Abdallah, and Advocate Salum Toufiq Ali.

Others were Captain Hatib Katandula, Ms Mkakili Fauster Ngowi, Mr Ali Omar Chengo, and Lawyer Shaaban Ramadhani Abdallah who was the secretary of the commission, which was supposed to conduct its inquiry independently as the government promised to act on the recommendations in the team’s report.

Both reports on the sinking of Mv Spice Islanders, and MV Skagit were, on separate dates, handed over to President Ali Mohammed Shein, indicating causes of the accidents and also the commission’s recommendations.

The Chief Secretary of the Zanzibar Revolutionary Council Dr Abdulhamid Yahya Mzee briefed journalists about the reports and promised to widely circulate it including on the government website. According to Mzee the report pointed out negligence, violation of the marine safety regulations, and overloading as some of the possible causes of the fateful marine accidents.

The commission recommended that victims be compensated by the companies owning the sunken ships. As the government started to act on some of the recommendations by having some port officers suspended from their duties or shifted to other duties, some people were sued in Court in connections with the accidents.

In Mv Spice Islanders, four men were accused of manslaughter, killing 203 people. The MV Spice Islanders ferry captain Said Abdallah Kinyanyite and first mate Abdallah Mohamed Ali, the Zanzibar Port security officer Simai Nyange Simai, and an officer from the boat company- Yussuf Suleiman Jussa were charged with negligence under section 236 of Zanzibar laws No 6/2004.

MV Spice Islanders, apparently overloaded with passengers and cargo, went down at some 10-kilometres away from Nungwi Beach, on its way to Pemba Island on the night of September 10th 2011. It is suspected that most of the passengers who died in both accidents were children, sleeping below decks at the time of accident.

Efforts by local and foreign divers to get to the sunken vessels out of the sea failed. Following the reports, the government has also been improving the marine safety laws, and the making sure that only sea worthy vessels operate.

The government has also bought a new passenger/cargo ship to help ease transport problems mainly between Pemba and Unguja Islands.

After the accidents, it emerged that some, particularly in coastal villages of Nungwi in north, Unguja islands where ferry capsized had avoided catching and eating big fish believing that the big fishes ate remains of people in the sunken ship.

Some fishermen like Mr Hassan Omar confirmed that “It is true, after the ferry accident, people in the Nungwi village avoided to eat big fish, prompting fishermen to reduce catching big fish. They think the big fish ate dead bodies. But the later life returned to normal, and people consume fish.”

While fishing is the common income generating activity in the islands, fish remains the main food for majority Zanzibaris particularly in villages close to the sea.

As she tried to change her position in ...

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Author: STAFF WRITER

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