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Hope dwindles after 62 dead, over 80 missing in Zanzibar ferry disaster

Rescuers carry the recovered body of a passenger killed during the ferry tragedy from a boat at the Port of Zanzibar, July 19, 2012.

THOMAS MUKOYA/REUTERS

An official said Thursday there was no hope for more than 80 people still missing a day after a ferry sank off the Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar, with 62 bodies already recovered.

The vessel, which was officially carrying 291 passengers and crew, including more than 30 children, went down in choppy waters off Zanzibar after leaving Tanzania's commercial capital Dar es Salaam around midday Wednesday.

But there was now little hope of saving more people, Zanzibar police spokesman Mohamed Mhina said, raising the prospect that some 145 may have died.

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"Search operations continue but it is now almost impossible survivors will be found," he told reporters.

"The ship has completely sunk. There were 290 people on board."

"This tragedy affects all of us, and the pain and suffering of those affected is the pain and suffering that we feel," Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said in a statement.

"We pray that those injured have a speedy recovery," he added.

Officials said emergency workers had rescued 146 people and recovered 62 bodies.

Two foreign tourists were initially reported to be among the dead, but hospital administrator Omari Abdallan said so far only one "body of a white person" was in the morgue.

"My two wives had gone to Dar es Salaam to visit relatives, but on their return, this is what happened," said 72-year-old Abdullay Yussuf.

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"I do not have hope of finding them alive. I only ask Allah to give me their bodies, so I can bury them with dignity."

Surivors recount how the high waves tossed the ferry, the Skagit, about as it ran into trouble.

"The boat was pitching strongly," said Enos Masemba, 32, travelling to Zanzibar to find work, and who escaped only after a fellow passenger managed to smash a window so they could leap into the rough sea. His wife drowned in the tragedy.

It was the second such incident in less than a year: last September, more than 200 people died when the ferry Spice Islander sank on a similar voyage.

Mr. Mhina said that the conditions had hampered rescue operations, forcing a halt overnight Wednesday, with the search resuming at dawn on Thursday.

"The weather was very bad, there were big waves and strong wind," he added.

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Tanzania's police chief meanwhile arrived in Zanzibar to coordinate operations and launch an investigation.

Mohamed Shein, president of the semi-autonomous Zanzibar archipelago, has declared three days of mourning.

On Wednesday, weeping relatives gathered on the quaysides in both Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, where survivors emerged soaking wet from rescue boats. Foreign tourists were seen wrapped in blankets.

The archipelago is famed both for its white-sand beach resorts and for Stone Town, the old quarter of Zanzibar, which is a UNESCO heritage site and popular tourist destination.

Officials said the ferry had been carrying 251 adults, 31 children and nine crew, according to the passenger list. At least 16 foreign tourists were on board, 14 of whom had been rescued.

But ferries in the region very often carry additional passengers who do not feature on the official manifest.

The September sinking, one of the worst maritime disasters in Africa in the past decade, is believed to have been caused by overloading, with angry survivors accusing port and ferry officials of having ignored the protests of passengers that the boat was overcrowded.

The boat that sank on Wednesday had initially been reported by officials to be the Kalama, but officials said Thursday it was in fact its sister ship, the Skagit.

The Washington State Department of Transportation said it had sold both vessels to a Canadian company which operates routes between the African continent and Zanzibar.

Both were built in 1989.

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