MV Spice Islander accused let go free


(Posted 03rd July 2014)

Tanzania’s prosecutorial system has come under widespread attack when news emerged yesterday that maritime bureaucrats, the owners and the crew of the killer ship MV Spice Islander are apparently going scot free, following the arguably worst ever maritime disaster in Tanzania’s history.

The 12 accused, charged with 269 counts of manslaughter – though casualty figures from other accounts could be as high as 2.500 – were discharged by the trial judge who acquitted all of them following the failure of the prosecution to advance the case.

The ruling of the Zanzibar High Court immediately raised tension as thousands of relatives of the victims of the bodged sailing between Unguja and Pemba were in shock that they, and the victims, were denied justice over what appears to be technicalities.

The High Court judge cited several cases of the prosecution changing charge sheets of the case which was brought following the sinking of the ship on 10th September 2011, reported here at the time.

It was beyond dispute that the ferry was overloaded by at least four times the number of passengers it was licensed to carry and as the ship was never raised it could not be established how many of the 2.500 passengers went down with the vessel, leaving the prosecution to only bring charges according to the number of bodies recovered at the time. The prosecutors are now under public fire to be fired for failing a case where the evidence was overwhelming, while legal experts supporting the victims’ families are pondering their next move, probably seeking to bring fresh charges, which under Tanzanian law apparently is possible. There have also been some suggestions that the prosecution may appeal the verdict to a higher court, if for nothing else but to save their necks.

From other sources it is also understood that while following a spate of maritime accidents over the past years stricter rules were proposed, that bye and large the laissez fair attitude amongst regulators and supervisory personnel remains overall too lax, opening the doors to future accidents.

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