Sunday, September 11, 2011

Another Major Freight and Passenger RoRo Ferry Disaster

Awful Tanzanian Vessel Death Toll Could Have Been Worse
Shipping News Feature

TANZANIA – Once again we are witness to tragedy when the MV Spice Islander, a freight and passenger RoRo (roll on/roll off) ferry travelling between the offshore islands of Unguja and Pemba in the Zanzibar archipelago lost power whilst traversing the dangerous waters off the coast of Zanzibar. The strong currents in the area apparently caused the overloaded vessel to capsize and the current death toll stands at around 200.

The disaster however could have been much worse as reports state that the ferry was carrying a complement of in excess of 800 souls plus a quantity of cargo, her official capacity is reported as 645 plus 45 crew. The bodies, recovered from the water are being taken to a local football stadium, include many children. Some reports state that the vessel was listing before she embarked causing some passengers to leave her prior to departure from Unguja. There are no reported tourist deaths as yet, most prefer local speedboats to the slower ferry service.

We have regularly featured disasters such as this, usually in the poorer regions of the world when vessels, often rejected by Western countries for reasons of safety, unreliability or age, are snapped up for use in areas unsuited to them. In this case it seems clear that safety measures regarding maintenance and load levels were simply ignored, presumably in the name of profit, leading to yet another avoidable tragedy.

Spice Islander is a Ro-Ro ferry of 836 gross tonnes was built in Greece in 1967 as Marianna. She was renamed Apostolos P following a sale in 1988 before being sold to a Honduran company in 2007 and renamed. She had been in trouble before when, in 2007, she broke down off the Somali coast reportedly due to fuel contamination. On that occasion she was aided by a patrolling US naval vessel which resupplied her with fuel. Speaking earlier today, the UK’s Minister for Africa Henry Bellingham said:

“I was deeply saddened by news of the ferry disaster off Tanzania earlier today which claimed the lives of so many people. On behalf of the British Government, I would like to extend my deepest sympathy to those affected and their families.

“When I visited Tanzania in May I was struck by how close the relationship is between our countries and the warmth and friendship of the Tanzanian people. At this difficult time, our thoughts are with the people of Tanzania as they come to terms with this terrible tragedy.”