ANOTHER MARITIME DISASTER NARROWLY AVOIDED
(Posted 08th January 2014)
At least 5 passengers on the inter island ferry MV Kilimanjaro II died on Sunday after falling overboard with an unspecified number of people still reported missing. Information received from Unguja, Zanzibar’s main island, to where the ferry was heading after leaving the sister island of Pemba in the early morning, suggests that the ship sailed into bad weather, with ocean swells causing the ferry boat to lean heavily. While barely staving off a rolling over, a number of passengers on deck however seem to have lost their footing when the ferry leaned heavily, lost their hold and fell overboard, with no rescue action taken by the crew, according to the source’s report. The captain of the ferry is now reportedly in police custody, ‘helping with investigations’ as the phrase here in East Africa goes, after being blamed to have ignored heavy weather warnings and abandoned those who had fallen off his vessel. Official search and rescue has now been terminated though local fishing boats are still looking for bodies, as no survivors can now be expected to be found. The Kilimanjaro II is part of a fleet of more modern ferries of catamaran design, having maritime observers wonder what could have gone wrong during that voyage.
Tanzania has in recent years been struck by several major maritime disasters, notably ferries and boats sinking while plying the waters between the two islands, as well as a Lake Victoria tragedy in May 1996 with allegedly over 1.000 lives lost at the time when the overloaded MV Bukoba sank within 30 miles of Mwanza port.
Tanzanian authorities at the time of the last major accident vowed to strengthen regulations and oversight and withhold licenses of errant shipping companies not complying with the new set of rules, but this latest near tragedy suggests that this is still a long way off and that complacency, and perhaps even corruption – a major issue cited in the last accident investigation – has crept back into the system. Prosecutions of past accidents are ongoing and it is expected that this latest incident will also make it to criminal prosecution. Watch this space.