Saturday, 21 September 2013

Anecdote Saturday - the Le Joola

26 September, 2002, the MV Le Joola (owned by the Senegalese government), capsized off the coast of Gambia. It is estimated that 1863 people died which places this disaster number two on the list of non-wartime maritime losses of life.

The Le Joola was named after the Jola people of Senegal.  Launched in 1990, she had two motors and the latest equipment for the time. At the time of the disaster she had been out of service for a year undergoing repairs, including one of the motors. She set sail 26 September from Ziguinchor in the Casamance region en route to Dakar, the capital. She left port at 1.30pm and although she was designed for a maximum of 580 passengers, it is estimated that there were 1863 on board. The exact number is unknown because some passengers were allowed to travel free and children under five were not required to hold tickets.  It is estimated that there was actually more than 2000 passengers on board.

The ferry was believed to be travelling beyond her coastal limitations, and due to the excessive heat, as many passengers as possible who could squeeze themselves onto the upper decks, did so, creating an unstable, 'top heavy' scenario.  The ferry had suffered a number of technical problems in the years before the disaster and this was laid at the door of poor maintenance, rather than any design flaws.

The seas were rough and winds gale force (similar conditions to those along the South Coast 27 / 28 July, 1909), and the Le Joola capsized within the space of five minutes. This demonstrates how quickly a disaster can occur even in the case of  large vessels. She remained afloat until 3pm when she eventually slid below the waves, taking with her many surviving passengers trapped within the hull.  A young boy, one of the only 64 rescued, recounted that he heard the terrible screams of those trapped within the stricken ferry.

The Senegalese government offered to pay $22 000 per passenger (recorded as lost) but no prosecutions materialized.

My book 'Waratah Revisited' will be available by 12 December, via Amazon. I explore the human aspect of the tragedy and take a closer look at the Inquiry into the loss of the Waratah. Revelations abound. Don't miss it!
the Le Joola

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