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Sinking of Joola

Le Joola was a Senegalese government-owned ferry that capsized off the coast of The Gambia on September 26, 2002. The disaster resulted in the deaths of at least 1,863 people. The sinking of the ferry Joola is thought to be the second-worst non-military maritime disaster in number of lives lost.

The ship was named Le Joola after the Joola (Jola) people of southern Senegal. It was constructed in Germany. The ship was 79 meters long and 12 meters wide, had two motors and was equipped with some of the latest safety equipment available at the time of the disaster. The ship had been out of service for almost a year undergoing repairs which included replacement of the port side engine. According to information released after the disaster, the ship was built to carry a maximum of 580 passengers and crew. The estimated number on board at the time of the disaster was 1,863, over triple the rated capacity.

Sinking : On September 26, 2002, the ferry Joola set sail from Ziguinchor in the Casamance region. At around 11 pm, the ship sailed into a storm off the coast of The Gambia. As a result of the rough seas and wind, the ferry quickly capsized, throwing passengers and cargo into the sea. Detailed reports indicate that this happened in less than five minutes.

Government rescue teams did not arrive at the scene until the morning following the accident, although local fishermen rescued some survivors from the sea several hours before. Of the estimated 2,000 passengers, only around 64 survived including only one woman (who was pregnant at the time) from more than 600 woman passengers aboard. The dead included passengers from at least 11 countries including Cameroon, Guinea, Ghana, Nigeria, France, Spain, Norway, Belgium, Lebanon, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

The Joola remained capsized but afloat until around 3:00 pm, at which point she finally slid beneath the water’s surface, taking with her those who were unable to get out of the ship.

The French courts launched a probe into the disaster as several French nationals were among the dead. According to many sources now available, the accident was caused by a variety of factors, including possible negligence. While rough seas and wind were directly responsible for the capsizing, the ferry was built only to be sailed in coastal waters but was sailing beyond this coastal limit when it capsized.

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