EYEAFRICA TV: Banjul, The Gambia: Seventeen years on today since the sinking of the Senegalese government-owned ferry Le Joola that capsized off the coast of Gambian waters on September 26, 2002, horrors of the devastating loss of lives still remain in minds of the people.
The disaster resulted in the death of at least 1,863 people and 64 survivors. It is widely believed to be the second-worst non-military maritime disaster in number of lives lost and even worse than the May 31, 1911 Titanic disaster.
Plying the route from Ziguinchor in Senegal’s southern region of Casamance to the Senegalese capital, Dakar, the ferry ran into a ferocious storm with an estimated 2000 passengers aboard, about half of whom are said to be without tickets.
Senegalese government’s inquiry principally blamed negligence, and accusations were leveled at both the then Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade and his prime minister.
The corpses are buried on Gambian soil in Basori, Kombo East, just few miles after the Radville farm in Tubakuta. Friends and families of the deceased annually visit the cemetery site to renew their love for the departed souls.
At the time of sinking, large number of people on board are said to be sleeping on-deck and above its center of cheerfulness added further instability. Rescue operations did not start for several hours.
The ship was named Le Joola after the Jola people of southern Senegal. It was constructed in Germany and was put to sea in 1990. It was 79 m (259 ft 2 in) long and 12 m (39 ft 4 in) wide, had two motors, and was equipped with some of the latest safety equipment available at the time of the disaster. Le Joola usually traveled twice a week and often carried women who sold mangoes and palm oil in Dakar. At the time of the disaster, the ship had been out of service for almost a year undergoing repairs which included replacement of the port side engine.