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Thursday, 3 October, 2002, 12:54 GMT 13:54 UK
Overloading blamed for ferry disaster
A coffin of a victim is carried
Burials have begun but many bodies will never be found
Two official investigations into last week's Senegalese ferry disaster have concluded that overloading, failure to observe safety procedures and bad weather conditions caused the vessel to capsize.

The two separate reports, ordered by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, said the ferry, the Joola, was built for 550 passengers but carried about twice that amount.

The upturned hull of the Joola
A salvage operation for bodies trapped in the hull has been abandoned
It capsized when hundreds of people on the top deck rushed to one side to take cover from a sudden gale.

The reports say the crew was taken by surprise and unable to release rescue equipment.

Only 64 of more than 1,000 passengers survived.

Hundreds of bodies have been found, but only 32 could be identified because so many or the victims' corpses had decomposed.


Hundreds more bodies remain trapped inside the ferry.

President Wade has accepted the resignations of his transport and armed forces chiefs.

The Senegal authorities have put up a website about the Joola disaster, which includes lists of passengers and survivors.

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

A relative weeps after viewing photos of the dead
Relatives have been trying to identify the dead from photographs
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.

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.

But decomposition had already begun in many of the 350 bodies recovered so far, making identification difficult.

Inquiry findings
Overloaded ferry
Crew did not observe safety procedure
Bad weather
Seaworthy ferry

President Wade told the CNN news station: "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."

The army chief, Mr Sakho, told the private Sud FM radio station that he wanted to clear the way for the investigation.

Map showing the route of the ferry

"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.

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.

The BBC's Chris Simpson
"The reports confirm that over one thousand people boarded the vessel "

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See also:

02 Oct 02 | Africa
28 Sep 02 | Africa
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