Tanzanian ship sinks; nearly 200 people are dead

A Tanzanian soldier carries the body of a child who was aboard the overcrowded boat on Saturday in Zanzibar. The ferry sank between mainland Tanzania and Pemba Island.

Associated Press

A Tanzanian soldier carries the body of a child who was aboard the overcrowded boat on Saturday in Zanzibar. The ferry sank between mainland Tanzania and Pemba Island.

STONE TOWN, Tanzania — Passengers on the aging, crowded boat headed for one of Tanzania's top tourist destinations said they realized something was wrong when the overnight ferry began to list from side to side.

Then water rushed through and killed the engines, sending the M.V. Spice Islanders upside down and pitching hundreds of people into the deep sea early Saturday morning. A witness counted 189 bodies, and the president of the nearby island of Zanzibar said more than 570 people were rescued, suggesting the boat was overloaded. Some survivors said the boat's capacity was about 600.

Those lucky enough to find something to cling to floated in the dark waters for at least three hours until the strong currents began to wash them up on the white sandy shores of Zanzibar. As the sun rose, news of the tragedy had already spread throughout the community and thousands of people were on the beach, desperately hoping their family members would be the next to emerge from the waves.

Throughout the day, police waded through the clear waters to shore, carrying bodies on stretchers, wrapped in brightly colored cloth and blankets. The smallest bundles — the children — they carried in their arms.

It's unclear how many people were killed or how many people were on the boat when it capsized. A reporter for ITV, a local television station, said he had seen 189 bodies. The president of Zanzibar, Ali Mohammed Shein, said 572 people had been rescued and declared three days of mourning for the disaster. A survivor, Khamis Mohammed, said it was carrying hundreds more than its official capacity of 600.

In the hours after the sinking, the government strongly discouraged journalists from reporting the event and refused to give journalists information.

"We appeal for calm to the public. The government is doing its best it can to handle the situation. There is no need to panic," said Mohammed Aboud Mohammed, the minister for state in the vice president's office.

Tanzanian ship sinks; nearly 200 people are dead 09/11/11 [Last modified: Sunday, September 11, 2011 12:04am]

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