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Wednesday, 2 October, 2002, 07:38 GMT 08:38 UK
Senegal's Wade promises inquiry
A coffin of a victim is carried
Burials have begun but many bodies will never be found
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade has promised a full investigation into last week's ferry disaster.

He has also accepted the resignations of his transport and armed forces chiefs after the state-run ferry Joola capsized, claiming nearly 1,000 lives.

Transport Minister Youssouph Sakho and Armed Forces Minister Youba Sambou are reported to be being held responsible for the disaster, which occurred last Thursday.

A relative weeps after viewing photos of the dead
Relatives have been trying to identify the dead from photographs
Only 64 survivors have been found from the estimated 1,034 people on board the overcrowded ferry, with everyone else dead or missing and presumed dead.

The army-operated vessel - licensed to carry only 550 passengers - was on a regular route to Senegal's capital Dakar from the southern province of Casamance when it overturned.

Corpses of victims have been washing ashore while a salvage effort to recover bodies from the upturned hull has been abandoned.

The government, which has accepted blame for the tragedy, is now considering whether to sink the ferry with its dead inside.

In an address to the nation on Tuesday night, the president gave a strong message of condolence and a firm promise to find out exactly what happened to the ferry, according to the BBC's Chris Simpson in Dakar.

Prosecutions promised

Abdoulaye Wade said that it was one thing to talk of destiny and the work of the almighty, but God also gave people the freedom to act and the responsibility to go with it.

He promised a full technical inquiry involving a French maritime expert and relatives of the victims.

People have been gathering at the city hall in Dakar trying to identify relatives from photographs of the dead.

The upturned hull of the Joola
A salvage operation for bodies trapped in the hull has been abandoned
But decomposition had already begun in many of the 350 bodies recovered so far, making identification difficult.

President Wade ordered an inquiry into the tragedy, preliminary results of which are expected on Wednesday.

He told broadcaster CNN: "There will be prosecutions, of course.

"Under our law, if a person by negligence provokes an accident or the death of a person, he has to be tried.

"And the people that will have any responsibility will be before the courts."

Ship tragedies
June 1904 - Steamship General Slocum sinks in New York harbour, 1,021 die
April 1912 - Titanic sinks in North Atlantic, 1,523 die
Empress of Ireland sinks off Canada, 1,012 die
April 1980 - Philippines ferry sinks, more than 1,000 die
December 1987 - Philippines ferry Dona Paz collides with tanker, 4,386 die
September 1994 - Ferry Estonia sinks off Finland, 852 die
September 2002 - Senegalese ferry Joola sinks, nearly 1,000 die
The army chief, Mr Sakho, told the private Sud FM radio station that he wanted to clear the way for the investigation.

"I took this decision after careful thought with the sole aim of giving the president a free hand in dealing with this matter," he said.

As well as the acknowledged overcrowding, questions have been raised about maintenance, as the Joola had only recently resumed service after undergoing repairs.

Mass burials of the victims have already started in the southern Casamance region of Senegal.

Map showing the route of the ferry

President Wade has proposed that four special cemeteries be established for the victims of the disaster - three in Senegal and one in Gambia - and said there would be an individual burial site for each of the deceased.

The government declared three days of national mourning.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Chris Simpson reporting for Focus on Africa
"Since his return the President has changed the tone of the Government's response"

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28 Sep 02 | Africa
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