(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Report blames army for delay in Joola rescue

Country Map - Senegal (Casamance)

A commission of inquiry into the accident in which the Senegalese vessel MV Le Joola capsized off the coast of The Gambia on 26 September, has said a delay by the army to rescue those on board led to the death of most of the 1,153 victims.

News organisations on Wednesday quoted the inquiry's report as saying the army chief of staff, Babacar Gueye, told the inquiry there had been no point in sending out military aircraft to look for survivors nine hours after the boat sank.

Fishermen in the area were able to pull 64 survivors from the sea immediately after Le Joola capsized at about 23:00 GMT and some survivors indicated that a speedy rescue operation could have saved many lives.

The inquiry also found that the boat was carrying double the number of passengers it was designed for and said that the ferry did not "conform to international regulations regarding safety equipment", the BBC reported. The report further blamed the accident on lack of training for the crew, failure of the captain to carry out standard stability calculations before leaving the port and inadequate emergency rafts faulty radio equipment, news organisations said.

Following the disaster, the Minister of Equipment and Transportation Youssou Sakho and Minister of Armed Forces Youba Sambou resigned. President Abdoulaye Wade also later sacked the country's navy chief, Ousseynou Combo. His decision, according local news agencies had been based on information he had received indicating mismanagement within the navy.

On Monday this week, Wade sacked Prime Minister Mame Madior Boye a move news reports said was linked to her initial dismissal of government responsibility in the accident. President Wade also dissolved parliament.

"The position of Mame Boye as prime minister has been ended," state-radio quoted a presidential decree as saying. "As a consequence the duties of other ministers have also ended," it added.

Wade has appointed a new premier Idrissa Seck, a member of his Senegalese Democratic Party.

MV Le Joola, which had been out of commission for more than a year, was declared safe to sail again in early September. The vessel shuttled between Zinguinchor in the Casamance region of southern Senegal and Dakar, providing a vital alternate to road travel from Casamance, where banditry and landmines make road transport unsafe.

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