Cablegate: Small Boat Capsizes: Over 200 Passengers Believed

DE RUEHFN #0364 2571437
R 141437Z SEP 09



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary: On September 8 a small boat capsized off the
coast of Sierra Leone, killing over 200 passengers on board.
Overloading of both passengers and cargo, improper
monitoring, poor weather and a slow rescue response have been
blamed for the disaster. The country is in mourning as the
chance of finding further survivors disappeared over the
weekend. End Summary.

2. A boat capsized on September 8 in the Yawri Bay, Moyamba
District, while carrying passengers to the large fishing
community of Tombo outside of Freetown. Two different
manifests were retrieved from the almost sunken boat by a
naval rescue team the following day. In one, a legal Sierra
Leone Maritime Administration document, 41 passengers were
registered. The other, written in an ordinary school exercise
book, had 251 adults registered, though this number excluded
the large quantity of students and small infants reportedly
also along for the ride. The illegal manifest also contained
the boat's cargo meant for trading at the ship's destination,
which included over 4000 gallons of palm oil, dozens of bags
of groundnuts, cement, and fish. The small outboard boat,
called a "panpam," was only meant to carry a maximum of 125
passengers. News reports have indicated that 37 people have
been rescued, while only 8 bodies have been recovered. The
remaining passengers are believed dead, including over 50
3. Though reports about the accident vary, reliable sources
indicate that the boat capsized around midday. The boat
lacked a communications device and news of the incident only
reached awaiting relatives and friends in Tombo around 20:00
that night. At that point, there was little naval officers in
the area could do until morning, as the only "rescue" vessel
available was a small fiberglass boat which would be
dangerously exposed during a night mission. The navy was
therefore forced to wait until early morning on September 9
to begin looking for survivors - roughly 20 hours after the
4. Sierra Leonean law sets regulations for panpams and the
common routes are supposed to be monitored by officials from
the Ministry of Transport and Aviation. The capsized boat was
apparently allowed to leave port without monitoring or
sufficient life vests on board. Due to government shortfalls,
no monitor was assigned to the port of departure, Kargboro,
so the responsibility of enforcement rested with the
receiving port of Tombo. The public is outraged over the
incident, placing blame on both the Sierra Leone Maritime
Administration Monitors and boat owners who allow boats to
regularly be overloaded. Many throughout the country are
calling for tougher laws to prosecute those guilty of
overloading, though the government's ability to implement
such laws is limited.

© Scoop Media

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