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Gabon transport minister resigns in wake of deadly shipwreck

Gabon transport minister resigns in wake of deadly shipwreck
Former Gabonese Minister of transport Transports Brice Paillat.   -  
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Gabon's transport minister, Brice Paillat, resigned Thursday (Mar. 16), the presidency announced, a week after a ferry disaster claimed the lives of at least 21 people, with another 16 still missing.

Relatives of the victims, opposition politicians and campaigning groups, had made repeated calls for the minister to depart.

The government had already suspended four senior figures inside the merchant marine and maritime affairs administration.

The statement from the presidency said Paillat's resignation had been accepted by President Ali Bongo Ondimba, without giving further details.

The deputy transport minister will take over his responsibilities until a replacement is appointed, the statement added.

The Esther Miracle ferry, carrying 161 passengers and crew, went down early on Thursday, March 9, during an overnight journey from the capital Libreville to the oil town of Port-Gentil.

The toll, while still provisional, has remained the same for the last two days.

The ferry had been bought and launched on that route last November and belonged to a private company, Royal Cost Marine (RCM). It is not clear when the vessel was built.

Witness accounts reported by various media said the crew did not help passengers as they tried to evacuate the sinking boat.

Many were left clinging to inflatable rafts as they took on water for hours, before the help arrived. The ferry sank 10 kilometres (six miles) off the coast.

Campaigners and relatives of the dead have questioned why the vessel, which was in a poor condition, was being used to carry both freight and passengers.

The authorities have opened two investigations into the disaster. So far, prosecutors have said only that some people have been detained.

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