It’s a veritable knife twisted into the wound of grief resulting from last month’s ferry disaster off the Indian Ocean coast in Zanzibar: that its death toll was 2,976 - fourteen times the number of recovered bodies.
The initial picture that unfolded after MV Spice Islander capsized off Zanzibar’s Nungwi Bay, about 25 kilometres from Stone Town, on September 10, was that about 1000 passengers were on board.
Fresh revelations, confirmed by the government on Friday evening, have elevated the casualty figure to about 2900, consequently earning the tragedy the worst maritime disaster in Tanzania.
The second worst so far featured the death of roughly 1,000 people in the wake of MV Bukoba sinking near Mwanza North Port in Lake Victoria, in 1996.
Presenting a government statement to Members of the House of Representatives on Friday evening, Zanzibar’s Second Vice President, Ambassador Seif Ali Iddi, said the reports showed that the ill-fated vessel had 3,586 passengers on board.
The statement has confirmed claims and rumours from survivors that the MV Spice Islanders was overloaded, and that the extent of the casualties had been grossly underestimated.
According to the second vice president, initial reports collected from various local and district leaders in Zanzibar showed that a total of 2,764 people were still missing. During the rescue process a total of 203 bodies were recovered and 619 passengers rescued.
“Until October 10 which was the last day of listing down the missing people, we had a total of 2,764 people unaccounted for, as either dead or alive,” said Ambassador Iddi.
However, he said the government was still skeptical with the figure of the missing individuals on the grounds that there could be a possibility of multiple reporting on a single missing person in Pemba and Unguja.
According to the Director of Visiwani Shipping Company, Salum Said, the ship was registered in Zanzibar with the capacity to carry 600 passengers and 425 tons of cargo.
The second vice president said the ship owned by Visiwani Shipping Company was built in Turkey in 1974 before it was registered in Zanzibar in 2007.
According to the second vice president, the Zanzibar government has spent Sh156 million in condolences paid to the bereaved families and another Sh99.9 million to meet the rescue and other operations after the tragedy.
At the same time, the Second Vice President said the Zanzibar government has so far received a total of Sh 1.0 billion in contributions that has been banked in a special account at Zanzibar’s People’s Bank.
Zanzibar President Dr Mohammed Shein has formed a special commission of inquiry under Judge Abdulhakim Ameir to investigate the tragedy. The commission is to complete work by November 15.
The ill-fated ferry’s passenger’s manifesto showed that only 610 people were in the vessel plus 97 tonnes of cargo, on the tragic day.
The capsized ferry didn’t have enough life saving jackets. During the accident there were only about 100 life jackets, though its carriage capacity was 600 people and 11crew.
To save their lives, hundreds of passengers grabbed mattresses, which they then used to float, while awaiting help from the rescuers.
The ill-fated ferry’s owner, Salum Said Mohamed, told The Guardian on Sunday that his vessel has insurance for passengers, which costs about $300,000, adding that all those who lost their lives as well as survivors would be compensated by the insurer, Alliance of Tanzania Insurance Co Ltd.
Built in 1967 as Marianna for an unknown owner, it was later sold to Theologos P. Naftiliaki, Piraeus, Greece. In 1988, Marianna was sold to Apostolos Shipping and renamed Apostolos P. The ferry was later sold to Saronikos Ferries and placed in service on the Piraeus - Aegina - Angistri route.
In 2005, Apostolos P was registered to Hellenic Seaways, whereby it was sold to Makame Hasnuu, Zanzibar, Tanzania, and renamed Spice Islander I.
According to the available evidence, on September 25, 2007, Spice Islander I, was off the coast of Somalia when it experienced engine problems due to contaminated fuel, but following an alarm raised via Kenya, the USS Stout from Combined Task Force 150 was sent to rescue it.