Zanzibar — THE death toll following last Wednesday's Mv Skagit boat disaster reached 65 from the 31 reported on Wednesday night. More than 100 victims are still missing.
"This was an act of God. You cannot blame us. Even the waves were not detected by the weather people. Normally February and July are dangerous months to travel in the sea and we have restricted travel during night," the Zanzibar Minister for Infrastructure and Communication, Mr Hamad Masoud, said at a joint press conference.
According to Mr Hamad, 290 people were on board the ill-fated boat including 31 children and nine crew members, all of whom are still missing. "Unidentified bodies will be buried by the government and the State will meet all costs," Hamad said.
About 40 bodies have been identified and buried by relatives. Other bodies will be buried by the government. Efforts to identify one dead foreigner continue.
Among the rescued people include foreigners from Netherlands. These are Paul Smeulders, Jaapuan der Hegder, Eline Van NistelRooj, Jua Maouche, and Inge Van Herugnen from Germany.
Others are Bernd van Rewnnings, Bastian Van Rennings, Joris Gielen, and Elvira Feyen from Belgium and from the US are Hilary Strasburger, and Lauren Dent.
The conference was convened by the Union Minister for Transport, Dr Harrison Mwakyembe, Zanzibar Minister for Information Mr Said Ali Mbarouk, and Zanzibar Minister for Constitutional and Legal affairs Mr Abubakari Khamis Bakari.
The conference was also attended by the Union Deputy Minister for Natural Resources and Toursim, Mr Lazaro Nyalandu and officials from the Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority (Sumatra) and those from the Zanzibar Maritime Authority.
"The boat capsized just in five minutes after it was hit by strong waves," Hamad said, as his counterpart Mwakyembe said this was insufficient time for passengers and crew even to think of putting on lifejackets.
Mr Nyalandu and Dr Mwakyembe hailed Zanzibari authorities for good arrangements in rescue efforts and helping the survivors and the identification of the bodies.
In another development, the European Union (EU) is supporting the ongoing rescue operations in Zanzibar. The UK ambassador to Tanzania, Diane Corner, said this in a statement, while the US ambassador, Alfonso Lenhardt, said that his country had donated medicines and other equipment.
Rescue boats and divers were searching for any remaining survivors in the completely submerged vessel. Preliminary reports indicated that the vessel capsized when it got hit by strong winds and waves.The ferry is owned by a company named Seagull, which also runs a number of other ferries. Previous reports had indicated that the vessel was called MV Salama.
More than 200 people were killed when a crowded ferry (Spice Islanders) sank in September, last year in the worst maritime disaster in the history of Zanzibar.
Meanwhile, Rose Athumani reports from Dar es Salaam that Seagull Manager Omar Hassan Mnkahonje (50), is in police custody in connection with the ill-fated boat, MV Skagit, that capsized on Wednesday afternoon near Chumbe Islet in Zanzibar.
The Dar es Salaam Special Police Zone Commander, Suleiman Kova, told journalists at the Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner's office that Mr Mnkahonje's explanation about the ill fated boat was the cause of the arrest to assist the investigations.
Commander Kova said the investigation into the marine accident is being done in collaboration with Sumatra and other stakeholders.Commander Kova noted that the number of passengers in the ill-fated boat might be more than the 300 listed in the boat's manifesto. He noted that the investigations will be able to make clear the correct number of passengers including foreigners.
The Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner, Mr Said Meck Sadick, said plans are underway to assist those who have lost relatives in the MV Skagit accident to travel to Zanzibar to identify the bodies of relatives.Mr Sadick said that he would assist those ready to travel to Zanzibar yesterday to secure seats in Kilimanjaro boat owned by Azam Marine and Coastal Fast Ferries.