STONE TOWN, Zanzibar (Reuters) - Rescue workers fought rough seas on Thursday to search for more than 100 people missing after an overcrowded ferry sank near the Indian Ocean archipelago of Zanzibar, but hopes of finding survivors were slim.
At least 38 people, including an American citizen, were confirmed dead and 145 were rescued after the MV Skagit/Kalama passenger boat capsized on Wednesday around midday near Chumbe island, west of Zanzibar.
The vessel had set sail from mainland Tanzania to the semi-autonomous archipelago, a popular tourist beach destination.
Hundreds of people gathered at the Maisara Grounds park near Zanzibar’s historic Stone Town area on Thursday to identify the bodies of victims laid out in a tent.
Tatu Kwiyela, a 35-year-old woman from mainland Tanzania, survived the accident, but lost her nine-month-old son.
“I was swept away by strong waves and lost my son, Saidi Jumanne. I tried to hang on to him but he disappeared into the sea,” said Tatu, who managed to identify his remains.
Police said more than 10 foreign tourists, including a group of Dutch holidaymakers, were among the rescued passengers.
“One of those killed in the ferry accident is an American citizen. The body has been recovered and is being preserved at a mortuary,” Zanzibar police spokesman Mohammed Mhina said.
The ferry, with a maximum carrying capacity of 250 people according to Zanzibar marine authorities, was carrying 290 people, said officials.
“We have recovered seven more bodies today, so the death toll has now risen to 38, with 145 survivors,” Zanzibar Police Commissioner Mussa Ali Mussa told Reuters.
“You can say it is not humanly possible to find anyone alive at this point. However, with God’s grace the possibility is still there ... Sometimes you can find people alive after a month at sea, so we are not giving up all hope.”
Police said rescue workers, who had suspended their search at nightfall, had resumed operations on Thursday to try to recover more bodies or rescue people who might have drifted from the ferry.
“We have boats and a police helicopter looking for survivors, but they are battling with heavy winds and rough seas,” said Mussa.
Some of the victims’ relatives said they were angry at authorities for lax marine safety regulations, especially after more than 200 people were killed in a ferry accident in September in the worst maritime disaster in the history of Zanzibar.
“The government has killed all these people. They must bring the owner of the boat to us,” said Abdallah Sadick, adding his brother was among the missing passengers.
Zanzibar residents said ships plying the Unguja-Pemba route are notoriously overcrowded and there are few, or no, inspections to ensure their safety.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete ordered an investigation into the incident and announced three days of national mourning.
Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Andrew Heavens