At least 240 people died when a ferry sank off the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, a police official said. An additional 607 people who were on the vessel have been rescued.
The boat sank at about midnight while en route to Pemba Island from Zanzibar, police commissioner Musa Ali Musa said yesterday from Zanzibar City, the capital of the Indian Ocean island nation. The vessel may have sunk because it was overloaded, the Nairobi office of Ecoterra International, a maritime environmental advocacy group, said in a statement.
"We are concentrating on seeking survivors and perhaps tomorrow we can begin investigating the cause of the accident," Mr Musa said. "We have not got any information about foreigners. All survivors and the dead are local people from Tanzania."
Zanzibar, an archipelago that includes the main islands of Unguja and Pemba and at least 51 other islets, is situated about 30km off the coast of Tanzania. The semi- autonomous Indian Ocean island nation is in a political union with Tanzania. In May 2009, a passenger ferry carrying 50 people capsized after taking water on board as it was travelling from Zanzibar's port at Stone Town to Pemba. At least 20 people died in the accident.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete cancelled a planned visit to Canada next week, where he was scheduled to hold talks with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and declared three days of national mourning.
The vessel involved in Friday night's accident was used to bring cargo from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's commercial capital, to Unguja before ferrying people to Pemba Island, Mr Musa said.
While Tanzania and Kenya have Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centres, their ability to deal with maritime disasters is hampered by a lack of proper equipment and technology, Mr Ecoterra said in an emailed response to questions.