A ferry from Senegal capsizes off the coast of Gambia on this day in 2002. Only 64 out of more than 1,000 passengers were rescued, making it one of the worst maritime disasters in history.
The ferry, the Joola, was traveling from Ziguinchor, in the province of Casamance on the southern coast of Senegal, to Senegal’s capital city, Dakar. It was a German-built ferry that had begun service 12 years before in 1990. About 200 feet long, it was carrying approximately 1,035 passengers, well above its capacity of 800. Apparently, many people had been allowed to board even though they did not have tickets for the trip.
The Joola had experienced problems with its engine during a previous trip from Ziguinchor and had been taken out of service for nearly a year. On September 23, 2002, it was inspected and allowed to return to service. It had modern safety equipment and was staffed with an experienced crew, including a commander with 21 years of experience.
There is no evidence that either the boat or the crew was at fault. Instead, the Joola seems merely to have been overwhelmed by the wind and rain of a strong storm. At about 11 p.m., it capsized off the coast of Gambia. In the stormy darkness, rescue efforts were nearly impossible. Hundreds were declared missing. Later, scores of bodies turned up in the Gambia River.
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade took responsibility for the tragedy, declared a three-day national mourning period and promised compensation to the victim’s families.