Families of Senegal ferry disaster victims seek justice

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The families of the nearly 2,000 victims of a Senegalese ferry that sank in 2002 are still seeking justice eight years after one of history's worst maritime disasters.

On the night of the 26th September 2002, the overloaded Joola capsized on its way from Ziguinchor, the main town in the southern Senegalese region of the Casamance, to the capital Dakar.

There were only 64 survivors and between 1,863 and 1,935 dead or missing, after the sinking of the overloaded boat off the coast of the Gambia, which was made to accommodate just over 500 passengers.

Eight years later, "justice has not been served, the boat has not been raised, the duty to remember has not been kept and the orphans have been forgotten," the committee for the Joola memorial museum initiative -- backed by four Senegalese and French organisations -- said this weekend.

Victims' families accused the government of not having kept "any of its main commitments ... except the issue of compensation on which the record is mixed."

Many families accepted a 10 million francs CFA settlement per victim (15,244 euros, 20,500 US dollars), while others refused.

Rose Martine Gomis, who was 17-years-old when her dad died in the sinking, told AFP that her mother "should not have taken the 10 million" which had "failed to meet our needs for eight years."

"The money gave us shelter, but my older brothers cannot continue their studies because my mother can no longer make ends meet," said Gomis, now 25 years old.

The museum committee re-affirmed that "all those involved in the sinking, whatever their rank, should be judged."

Besides overloading the boat, other severe deficiencies were noted in the aftermath, from the lack of equipment to alert the ferry was in trouble to the incredibly slow rescue response.

In 2003, Senegal's courts closed the case, arguing the ship's captain - the main person responsible -- had perished in the accident.

© 2010 AFP

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