Zanzibar — AT least five people have been found dead and 15 others are missing after their boat, MV Kilimanjaro II, was struck by a strong wave at Nungwi area when heading to Unguja Island from Pemba, eyewitnesses and port authorities said.
There were 456 passengers onboard, 396 of them adults and 60 children, according to North Unguja Regional Police Commander (RPC) Khalfan Mohamed Msangi.
Details of the deceased were not revealed but Zanzibar North A District Commissioner (DC), Ms Riziki Simai, confirmed that five bodies were retrieved while three others were saved, adding that the the search continues.
"I last communicated with my son over the phone as he screamed for help, telling me that they were dying. The boat has arrived, but my 17-year old son is missing," Mr Abdullah Mohammed, who was at the Zanzibar seaport to enquire about his son, said.
He was joined by other survivors, including Mr Suleiman Said (22), who said he had not seen his two brothers. He witnessed the boat in which they were travelling forced to lean on one side, causing several properties to fall into the water while some people also fell off the boat.
Suleiman said that the boat managed to dock at Malindi Port. Crew members of the boat, owned by Azam Marine Company, refused to talk to reporters who turned-up at the port to collect information on the incident.
The Azam Marine management at the port only opted to talk to Azam Television reporters." Fortunately, the Zanzibar Maritime Authority (ZMA) Director, Mr Abdi Omar Maalim, came to speak to the irritated reporters, confirming that the vessel experienced problems while on its way from Pemba to Unguja.
"We are still investigating reports that some people are missing and some properties drowned when a wave struck the boat at Nungwi peninsula, causing mayhem and panic among passengers," said Mr Maalim.
Government officials and Azam Marine management are blamed for not responding well to the disaster. "Some government officials were slow in acting, while Azam Marine officers provided misleading information," said an independent diver who requested anonymity.
He informed reporters that a team of divers from the rescue unit were sailing to Nungwi area, a highly turbulent area with heavy waves.
More than 200 people died at the same place in 2011 when a boat 'MV spice Islander' capsized while on its way to Pemba. Later in July 2012, another boat MV Skirgit capsized in the area while sailing to Zanzibar, killing more than 140 people.
The search team includes the police and divers from marine unit (KMKM) and the ZMA director said that a detailed report would be released as soon as investigations were over.