MV Le Joola Ferry Capsizes 1000 Dead Gambia West Africa – On September 25, 2002, the ferry Le Joola set sail from Ziguinchor in the Casamance region on one of its frequent trips between southern Senegal and the country’s capital Dakar at about 1:30 pm. The Le Joola ship was designed to carry a maximum of 580 passengers and crew, an estimated 1,863 passengers are believed to have been on board.
MV Le Joola was a Senegalese government-owned roll-on/roll-off ferry that capsized off the coast of the Gambia, with 1,863 deaths and 64 survivors. It is thought to be the second-worst non-military disaster in maritime history.
Passengers including 185 people who boarded the ship from Carabane, an island where there was no formal port of entry or exit for passengers. The exact number of all passengers remains unknown estimates put the number at over 2,000 of which only 1,034 travelers had tickets. The rest of the passengers did not require tickets (children aged less than 5) or had been permitted to travel for free, as often happened.
Last call broadcast to a maritime security center in Dakar at 10 pm, reporting good travel conditions. At around 11 pm, the ship sailed into a storm off the coast of Gambia. As a result of the rough seas and wind, the ferry capsized, throwing passengers and cargo into the sea. Detailed reports indicate it happened in less than five minutes.
While many of the ship’s passengers may have died during or immediately following the capsizing, a large number probably survived, only to drown while awaiting rescue. Government rescue teams did not arrive at the scene until the morning following the accident, although local fishermen rescued some survivors from the sea several hours before. There were only 64 survivors in all. There were more than 600 female passengers aboard and only one woman (Mariama Diouf, who was pregnant at the time) survived.
Some time before official rescue teams arrived, it was local fishermen with pirogues in the area of the tragedy who started the first efforts to pull survivors out of the water. They were able to rescue a few people but also recovered several bodies that were floating around Le Joola. At 2 pm, they rescued a 15-year-old boy. The boy confirmed that there were still many people trapped alive inside the ship; there were reports of noises and screaming coming from within.
Le Joola remained capsized but afloat until around 3:00 pm, at which point she finally slid beneath the water’s surface, taking with her those who were unable to get out of the ship.