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Saturday, 28 September, 2002, 19:21 GMT 20:21 UK
Hopes fade in Senegal ferry search
Relatives waiting for news at a Dakar port
Angry relatives are waiting at the quayside
Hopes are fading in the search for more than 500 people still missing after a ferry capsized in a storm off the coast of Senegal on Thursday.

Senegalese rescuers have recovered the bodies of about 200 people and 60 survivors have been picked up, from a total of 796 people onboard the vessel.

Everything happened so quickly - the boat overturned in less than five minutes

Survivor Moulay Badgi

Scores of bodies - many of them child victims - are also reported to have been recovered from the River Gambia and transported to the Gambian capital, Banjul.

The Senegalese President, Abdoulaye Wade, has said the state bears responsibility for the accident.

He said he believed there had been "an accumulation of errors," which resulted in the state-run ferry capsizing.

Amid mounting criticism about the ship's seaworthiness, he faced angry crowds in the capital Dakar.

Overloaded ship

Mr Wade said it had been established that the ship was overloaded - and the state would compensate the victims' families.

The ferry capsized before midnight on Thursday

The ferry, named the Joola, was travelling from Ziguinchor, the main town of the southern Senegalese province of Casamance, to Dakar when the tragedy occurred.

Relatives have crowded the quayside and hospitals in Dakar, hoping for news of those on board.

Lists have now been posted of those known to have survived, and the government has declared three days of national mourning.

'It was terrible'

Survivors said disaster struck in a matter of minutes.

"Everything happened so quickly. The boat overturned in less than five minutes," said Moulay Badgi.

"I heard the crying of the children and it was terrible."

Two Senegalese women embrace
Distraught relatives are desperate for news

Survivors stayed on top of the capsized boat for two hours, until fishing boats arrived to pluck them off.

"It was horrible, because we were hearing people screaming from underneath," said another survivor, Moussa Ndong.

There were about two dozen Europeans on board the ferry, whose passengers were mostly from Senegal and Guinea Bissau.

"I survived, but I saw my wife drown and I could do nothing to help," said Frenchman Patrice Auvray, who was taken to hospital in Gambia.

Travelling by boat is a popular mode of transport between Dakar and Ziguinchor because a civil war has made the route by road treacherous.

Safety questions

Details of how and why the Joola tipped over are still sketchy, but the government has promised a full inquiry.

Attention has focused on the overcrowding of the ferry, which has a capacity of just 550.

Questions have also been raised about maintenance, as the Joola had only recently resumed service after undergoing repairs.

Jean-Marie Diatta, anxiously waiting for news of his relatives at the quayside, told the BBC he blamed the tragedy on negligence.

He said an earlier sailing from Ziguinchor had also experienced problems, with one of the ship's motors damaged in a storm.

"When that damage became clear, the ship should have been put out of commission," said Mr Diatta.

"What we are seeing now is the result of irresponsibility."

Media outrage

Senegal's independent press also blamed the disaster on the government.

"Criminal negligence," the Sud daily newspaper declared in a front-page headline. The Joola "should never have taken to the sea," it said.

The Walfadjri newspaper said the tragedy had been caused by "negligence" and "technical failings" affecting the engines - and it condemned the government's decision to return the Joola to service as "criminal populism".

The BBC's Chris Simpson in Dakar
"A full inquiry has been promised"
See also:

10 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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