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At least 189 die off Tanzanian coast after ferry going to tourist spot sinks

Tanzanian police carried children’s bodies from the sea after an apparently overcrowded ferry sank yesterday. Tanzanian police carried children’s bodies from the sea after an apparently overcrowded ferry sank yesterday. (Sultan Ali/Associated Press)
Associated Press / September 11, 2011

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STONE TOWN, Tanzania - An overcrowded ship sank in deep sea near one of Tanzania’s top tourist destinations yesterday, killing at least 189 people, including many children.

The ferry, MV Spice Islanders, sank in an area of heavy currents between mainland Tanzania and Pemba Island at about 1 a.m. Saturday. Boats frequently traverse the route, but travel times vary depending on the vessel.

The ship was heavily overloaded and some potential passengers had refused to board when it was leaving the mainland port of Dar es Salaam for an island north of the tourist destination of Zanzibar, said survivor Abdullah Saied.

A local news report said 189 bodies were recovered, and the president of the nearby island of Zanzibar said more than 570 people were rescued, suggesting the boat was overloaded.

Witnesses said the capacity of the boat was about 600. The number on board could not immediately be confirmed.

“I realized something strange on the movement of the ship. It was like zigzag or dizziness,’’ said 15-year-old Yahya Hussein, who survived by clinging to a plank with three other people. “After I noticed that I jumped to the rear side of ship and few minutes later the ship went lopsided.’’

Hussein said there were many children aboard.

After the ship began to list, water rushed through the main cabin and stopped the engines, said Mwita Massoud, another survivor.

“The government is doing its best it can to handle the situation. There is no need to panic,’’ said Mohammed Aboud Mohammed, the minister for state in the vice president’s office. In the hours after the sinking, the government strongly discouraged journalists from reporting the event and tried to restrict information about the accident.

The green and hilly island of Pemba is often described as one of the best scuba diving destinations in the world. Tanzania’s economy relies heavily on tourism.

Thousands of residents mobbed the docks of Stone Town on Zanzibar, an island near Pemba, waiting for news. One man was screaming that he had lost 25 members of his family, including his sisters, his wife, and grandsons. He was too upset to give his name. Many of the crowd were crying or screaming. .

Many of those present expressed anger that the ship had been allowed to leave port so overloaded and called on government officials to resign. They said the island should have divers and rescue boats, but it only has a small vessel to try to stop smuggling.

In 2006, another ship capsized off Zanzibar, claiming hundreds of lives.

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