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Senegal: Relatives and officials commemorate victims of 2002 shipwreck

Family members hold a painting in memory of their father during a ceremony for the anniversary of the capsizing of “Le Joola” in Ziguinchor on September 26, 2022.   -  
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JOHN WESSELS/AFP or licensors -

Senegal

Like every year on September 26 since the terrible night of 2002, the Senegalese town of Ziguinchor remembers its departed children.

A hundred relatives of the nearly 1,9000 victims of the Le Joola ferry shipwreck, together with officials laid a wreath and took part to a Muslim and a Christian commemorative ceremony, Monday.

Next to around 50 graves in Kantene cemetery emotion could be felt.

"2000 missing, there are no consequences, there is no responsibility, Mamadou Hampathé Sadio, the son of victim of the Joola sinking laments. Yet the families of the victims need it because those responsible must be named, justice must be served for the eternal rest of our parents."

Was the capsize due to an engine failure, a navigational error, bad weather, poor maintenance and overcrowding -- or a combination of all -- ? Despite a Senegalese inquiry and a French probe launched since 18 French citizens died in the tragedy, no clear answer has been givven.

Senegal closed the case in 2003 after concluding an investigation that blamed the captain, unaccounted for since the catastrophe. French courts also dismissed a years-long probe, which found evidence against seven Senegalese officials, concluding that Paris did not have jurisdiction.

Victims' associations say more than 2,000 passengers from more than a dozen countries died, and only 65 survived.

Left with no answers it is har to mourn properly. "Every year we do the same thing. We pray at home. We come here [Editor's note: at the cemetery]. We go out with people, we do the same thing. We still wish he who is in paradise, was still in the world. That's it. It's really painful. But what to do? It's hard. It's hard."

Deadliest civilian maritime disaster

Le Joola sailed into a storm off the coast of The Gambia on the way from Ziguinchor to the capital Dakar. Le Joola, sunk to a depth of 20 metres (66 feet). It is thought to hold many bodies. 

On September 26, more than 1,928 people officially crowded on to the ferry, which had a capacity for 536 passengers.A total of 1,863 people drowned or were lost -- surpassing the Titanic toll of more than 1,500 some 90 years earlier.

Victims' associations say more than 2,000 passengers from more than a dozen countries died, and only 65 survived.

At another larger ceremony with several hundred people close to the Casamance river from where Le Joola had departed, the head of victims' associations repeated a call for the wreck to be raised.

Senegalese and French victims' associations have called for a memorial to be erected. One was promised for five years ago but the site was still nowhere near ready in Ziguinchor on Monday.

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