Part one – Skagit disaster:
We had the two younger boys here this past week. As we were supposed to have settled in Zanzibar, I had booked them return tickets on 1Time Airline, directly from O R Tambo International, Johannesburg to Zanzibar airport, way before we departed. So, as most of you know by now, we are still stuck in Dar es Salaam, and we made arrangements to take the Azam Marine and Coastal Fast Ferries across the ocean to welcome our boys on their arrival at Zanzibar airport. Even though we travel VIP class, in a lovely air-conditioned saloon, I felt sick – strange for someone who has crossed the Atlantic Ocean on an Alubat Yacht for the South Atlantic yacht race, or previously known as the Cape to Rio yacht race!
Zanzibar airport authorities do not allow anyone into the building to wait for arrivals, so we stood outside, filled with excitement as it would be months since we last touched the boys – I Skype with my kids regularly, but that can never be a substitute for touch, kiss and hug… The moment they appeared through the doors, my joy brimming over, I planted kisses galore all over them – of course much to their annoyance. After all ma, we are young men!
I had arranged for us to spend 3 days in Zanzibar before returning to mainland Tanzania, so that the boys could have a taste of a tropical paradise island – blue skies, azure seas, tropical fish to gawk at over the reefs, snow-white powder beaches. But, I will do a blog with more about that later. On Friday we boarded the Kilimanjaro 11 to Dar es Salaam, with Allister not at all impressed as he is so prone to motion sickness, and has had horrible experiences on board anything from a small aircraft trip between Nairobi and Mombasa, to a cruise on board The Rhapsody, where he hardly saw daylight the entire cruise. The only time he felt better was in the water of the on-deck pool. As we stood in the queue, waiting to board, my eye caught another ferry – the MV Skagit. She did look worse for wear compared to the shiny Azam ferry we were boarding, a bit top-heavy to my novice eye, and I inwardly cringed and resolved never to use her. A short while later she started her engines and she looked ill!! The black smoke emanating from the diesel engine told me she needed some TLC. We departed on our journey home soon after and true to form, Allister was as sick as a dog on board.
Whilst being happily ensconced in a beautiful guest house between Paje and Jambiani, run by a delightful hostess from my home country, South Africa, she introduced me to a local “grapevine” group of ex-pats who assist each other with anything from news to needs via e-mail on Google Goups. I joined as soon as I got home, finding some very interesting mails and snippets to mull over. So it is then via an e-mail on that sad day last week, that I heard about the ill-fated Skagit’s disaster. Incredulous at first, as we are so used to travel via ferry by now, but soon overcome with grief for the unneccessary loss of life so close to the island’s port. Conflicting reports initially led us to believe that all will be O.K., but unfortunately not many Africans are good swimmers (other than the masters of the seas who sail with dhows), and given that the facts later on reveal that the ferry capsized and sank very quickly thereafter, I realised that a worse death toll was on the cards – not that one death is not bad!
The newspapers have been full of reports re the apparent neglect, over-crowding etc, even saying the ferry manager has been detained. The Zanzibar government called for 3 days of mourning, the Tanzanian government called for a special task force to be established to deal with such marine disasters. The Zanzibar ex-pat group astounded me with even more detail, like the sightings of a “fake doctor” at the site where bodies were brought onto land, apparently to offer foreigners assistance in repatriating bodies of loved ones. The mail went on to say that this man was dangerous, has recently been in jail for illegal possession of firearms, and goes around at the local resorts, offering his services, when he has not been able to produce any proof of qualifications as a doctor. He offers a bribe to hotel staff to refer foreigners that take ill whilst on holiday to him, often making them more sick than before. Well, lo and behold next day the poor writer of all of this was apparently threatened by telephone that he will come and kill her at her resort! I have not heard a word since, and can only hope she has protection against such a violent person, and that he be exposed for the apparent fraud that he is – heavens forbid that any of my friends or family who fall ill whilst on holiday in Zanzibar crosses his path!
The death toll now, including the bodies not found, have risen to 145 – that is 145 too many people who have lost their lives due to over-crowding, poor communication between weather stations and marine authorities and perhaps greed?
By Thursday noon, Azam was the only group allowed to run a ferry service between Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. Small charter planes were full, and tensions in Zanzibar and Tanzania high with grief and unanswered questions. By now, some groups have come together to start a Facebook page to try to encourage quick SMS’s during such a disaster to kickstart action in future, but who knows how many more lives will be lost under similar circumstances before these steps become a reality?
I took the ferry accident worse than expected, especially since I had no close ties to anyone that lost their lives, and I can only ascribe it to the fact that it now feels so close to home, a strange thought…… Zanzibar becoming home ??
Next episode: sea urchins and their damage!
- Tanzania ferry sinks off Zanzibar (bbc.co.uk)