Revisited – Two decades after the Joola disaster in Senegal, families of victims still cannot mourn


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In this edition, we look back at a horrific shipwreck with a death toll even heavier than the Titanic. On September 26, 2002, the Joola disaster claimed at least 1,800 lives. The ferry sailed between the Senegalese province of Casamance and the capital Dakar. In the middle of the night, 40 kilometers off the coast, the boat capsized after being hit by tropical rain and strong winds. It took more than 16 hours for help to arrive. Only 64 passengers survived the night of hell. Sarah Sakho and Sam Bradpiece of UKTN relive the tragedy two decades later.

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The Joola disaster had several causes. The ship, operated by the Senegalese Navy, was in poor condition. It was congested, with four times more passengers than the maximum allowed. The vehicles in the hold were not secured. The ferry captain, who died himself, undoubtedly made a navigational error.

Families of the victims have long tried to find out the truth about what happened. Some filed a complaint against the Senegalese government for “negligence”, but the case was closed in 2003. Legal proceedings also started here in France, from which several victims came, but they did not succeed. Twenty years later, the families of the victims continue their fight to ensure that the Joola disaster is not forgotten. They especially want the wreck of the ship to be removed from the seabed in order to mourn properly.

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