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Monday, 7 October, 2002, 08:50 GMT 09:50 UK
Senegal boat tragedy: What lessons can be learned?
Hundreds of bodies have been recovered and just 64 survivors rescued after the Senegalese state-owned ferry, Joola, capsized in heavy winds.

Travelling from Zinguinchor to the Senegalese capital Dakar, Joola had over 1,000 people aboard: almost twice as many passengers as it should officially carry.

President Abdoulaye Wade has accepted state responsibility for the tragedy and the families of those involved will be compensated.

Since March 1999, over 300 lives have been lost in four different boat disasters in Uganda, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

What should be done to stop this catalogue of tragedy? Is travelling on Africa's seas and lakes inherently dangerous, with overcrowding the norm? Do passengers just have to take their chances?

This Talking Point is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


This is a wake-up call to African transport and aviation ministries and agencies. The need to have good and affordable transportation infrastructures is long overdue.
Andrew Musa, California, USA

My heartfelt condolences go to the bereaved but it was a disaster waiting to happen. All forms of transport in Senegal are dangerously overcrowded. I live in the country part-time and I have a fear of riding on the buses. Twice I've taken the ferry across the River Gambia to Banjul and have nearly 'died' in the crush. I wondered what would happen if that boat capsized. The government of Senegal must bring in strict passenger limits and weed out corruption.
John, England

Africa - wake up and stop killing your kith and kin

Mbah Chesami Emmanuel, Yaounde, Cameroon
Senegal's sea accident is just one of the few isolated cases of defective transport methods and equipment used by most African nations. Poverty and lawlessness characterise the numerous accidents that occur daily throughout the African continent. As the Senegalese authorities are taking measures to indemnify the victims' families, other governments should not follow suit but to take measures tighter than ever - but overhaul their respective transport regulations in order to avert another tragedy. Africa - wake up and stop killing your kith and kin.
Mbah Chesami Emmanuel, Yaounde, Cameroon

I am sorry for the families of the victims. My condolences to all of them. It is sad but, it is the reality of the African cities. The Joola tragedy is not an isolated event in Africa. The transportation system remains substandard. There are mentalities that the African populations refuse to abandon. In cities vehicles are always overloaded. Too many people have already died in such tragedies.
Cathrerine Ngo Biyack, Cameroon

The main lesson to be learned is that rules should be respected and leaders should ensure that they are properly enforced, by first educating the people and second by sanctioning any breach of the law.
Y Diallo, Switzerland

We often compromise our own safety and death is just an everyday occurance

Tamara, Tanzania
We need to value our lives more as Africans, both the people and the leaders. We often compromise our own safety and death is just an everyday occurance. We need to start by changing our mindset and valuing every single African life - enough of the overcrowded ferries and the buses and petrol explosions that claim lives but can be easily avoided.
Tamara, Tanzania

The Joola was not the only case of neglect and irresponsibility in Africa's transport sector. I travelled from the Guinean Capital Conakry in January 2000 aboard a boat that barely had room for 200, but was loaded to over three times that number. I think I am very fortunate to tell the story, for we nearly sank in stormy seas, but all the captain cared about was to reach Freetown in time so that rival boats would not get the passengers before him for the next day's return trip.
Karifala Dumbuya, Germany

A little publicised tragedy with a ferry that involved a similar number of deaths - approximately 1,000 - was the Mwanza ferry disaster in 1996, which was a result of exactly the same inefficiency.
Peter Holdsworth, Zimbabwe

Too many people in responsible positions are careless, do not care enough about their fellow Africans, and are dishonest. Were people in authority going to pocket the Joola's extra fares? Where were the inspectors and the Harbour Master? And is this accident going to make a difference? Are other African governments now going to take steps to prevent similar accidents in future? Don't hold your breath.
C. Alexander Brown, Canada

It was something from God

Baba Bijilo, The Gambia
It's bad news to hear, but people have to understand that it was something from God the Almighty one and can't be avoided. Even if the boat had carried only 10 passengers, it will still be the same because that day was the end of Joola. May all the lost lives rest in peace.
Baba Bijilo, The Gambia

In Africa, and in Nigeria particularly, we overload boats, cars and aeroplanes without caring about the consequences. We must learn to keep to minimum standards to avoid this kind of Senegalese experience. It is heavily painful.
Barikpemang, Nigeria

All Africans in the travel business should enforce vehicle capacity limits

Kingsford Koomson, UK
It is time African countries learned about enforcing capacities. I was in Ghana in 1998 and travelled to Kumasi. The bus was full twice over. To my horror the booking office was just prepared to add another passenger. All responsible Africans engaged in the travel business should learn to enforce vehicle capacity limits. I am sorry to hear about this tragedy. My condolences to all the families involved.
Kingsford Koomson, UK

I have just talked to a regular passenger of the Joola who said that it is not unusual for it to be overcrowded. This tragedy should be investigated accordingly.
Serigne Mbacke Diop, Senegal

Although my heart goes out to the families of the victims, I must say this is a tragedy that could have been avoided. The transportation system in Africa is badly neglected. What happened in Senegal was foreseeable in that they always overload cars and trucks. Blaming the tragedy on the wind makes me feel that they did not get a weather forecast briefing - that is essential for navigation. I hope that from this we will learn to respect the laws of the seas more often. Condolences to all.
Ouz, USA

The Senegalese ship tragedy is not an isolated event in African transportation. Travelling in Africa by sea, land or air remains hazardous because of the age, maintenance records and unworthiness of the ships, aircrafts or automobiles. Low wages and discouraging work conditions tempt transport officials to accept kickbacks and ignore safety regulations. The African Union confederation should adopt uniform, standards in continental, international and foreign transportation.
Igonikon Jack, USA


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30 Sep 02 | Africa
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