COURT CASE OF MV SPICE ISLANDER REVEALS SHOCKING NUMBERS OF CASUALTIES
Prosecutors in Zanzibar are finalizing their paperwork in a case against eleven individuals to stand trial on manslaughter charges over what has turned out to be the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster on record.
The MV Spice Islander, as reported here at the time of the accident and repeatedly thereafter, went down in stormy waters while sailing from Unguja, Zanzibar’s main island to the sister island of Pemba, as a result of badly stowed cargo but mainly due to massive overloading. While some 941 passengers could be rescued by combined Tanzanian navy and fishing industry effort, which saw every available ship deployed to the site to pick up survivors from the water, it has now emerged that the initial estimates of casualties were grossly understated. Details emerged from the charge sheet the prosecution has drawn up, that the number of dead stands at a staggering 2.740, most of whom are thought to have gone down with the wrecked ship and are entombed inside the hull. The listed maximum capacity of the ship was set at 600 passengers but the actual load now appears to have been 6 times as many. The Tanzanian government has since then made significant changes in the way ships are inspected and in the staff deployed to the maritime authorities to root out the corruption and rot which has according to a source in Dar es Salaam significantly contributed in the past to the many accidents involving ships sailing between the islands and even on Lake Victoria. The sheer number of accidents left Tanzania as the worst off countries in Africa vis a vis maritime safety and among the worst in the world.
The case, which is before the Zanzibar Chief Justice due to its magnitude, will hear from at least 27 witnesses, as the owners, management and several of the surviving crew are facing a trial which might see them sent down for the maximum period permitted under Tanzanian law for a charge of manslaughter. In addition is is expected that the culprits will be being hammered by civil litigation if found guilty in criminal court through compensation claims by survivors and the families of those lost in the accident. Sources from the insurance industry say the ship’s insurance was immediately invalidated when the crew willfully and deliberately overloaded the vessel, leaving the entire financial liability with the company owners, managers and the crews responsible for the tragedy. Watch this space for updates when the case goes underway.