SA divers rushed to Zanzibar after ferry disaster


A South African National Defence Force (SANDF) dive team has arrived in Zanzibar, offshore Tanzania, to assist with the recovery of the remains of the about 200 people who drowned Saturday when an over-loaded ferry capsized.

Reuters reports Zanzibar minister of state Mohamed Aboud Mohamed told a news conference yesterday the death toll from Saturday’s disaster was 197, with 619 survivors — meaning the MV Spice Islander was loaded with over 200 more people than it was licensed to carry. It is Tanzania’s worst maritime disaster in at least 15 years.

The vessel had been sailing from Zanzibar to Pemba, the two main islands of the Zanzibar archipelago, a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania and popular beach destination for tourists.

President Jacob Zuma on Saturday ordered the SANDF to deploy teams to assist the Tanzanian Defence Force and its government to rescue and/or recover victims of the disaster following an urgent request from Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete. No foreigners have so far been reported either among the victims or the survivors of the disaster.

The South African Ministry of Defence says a team of eleven specialist divers and four medical personnel with their equipment were flown to Zanzibar aboard a SA Air Force C130B Hercules transport yesterday and were scheduled to start a rescue nd recovery operation this morning.

After receiving a briefing on the logistics of the operation, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu said the SANDF “will do everything to support our neighbours and friends when they are in time of need. The President, who is the Commander-in-Chief, has ordered that the SANDF must do everything possible to help the Tanzanian Defence Force to recover all the bodies and to provide any other assistance required. We are ready to do so and the SANDF is very capable and has all necessary skills and equipments, we are always ready.”

The frigate SAS Mendi is also on standby to assist with salvage and recovery operations.

Tanzania’s worst maritime disaster took place in May 1996 on Lake Victoria when the ferry MV Bukoba sank with as many as 1000 people on board. Only 114 passengers survived. The captain and eight officials were subsequently charged with the murder of 615 people. The South African Navy also assisted in the recovery of the bodies of the dead in that incident.

Reuters adds other disasters-at-sea off Tanzania include two overloaded small boats capsizing and swept away in high seas off Tanzania’s coast in January this year. In May 2009 a vessel sank just off Zanzibar with dozens aboard, killing six.