“200 missing after Sierra Leone shipwreck
Many on board were schoolchildren returning from holidays, officer says
msnbc.com news services
updated 11:14 a.m. CT, Thurs., Sept . 10, 2009
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone – Twelve people are dead and more than 200 — including many schoolchildren returning from holidays — remained missing Thursday, a day after a wooden boat capsized at sea, police said.
Some 40 passengers have been rescued so far off the coast of the West African nation, police official Ibrahim Samura said.
“Most of the passengers were schoolgoing children returning from holidays,” Samura said.
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Abu Essay, one of the survivors, said most of the victims were children returning from the town of Waterloo near the capital Freetown, where they had spent their holidays.
Hundreds of relatives rushed from Waterloo to Tombo, where survivors were taken.
“I only saw my son two months ago when he left Tombo by a boat for holidays. Yesterday I received from his mother news about the shock death of our son,” said Ali Toure, father of 11 year-old John Turay.
ESRI / AP
Plantain Island, Sierra Leone
The boat has been found afloat, Samura said, and search and rescue operations were continuing in the area.
“On the day of the accident the sea was rough and it was windy,” Samura said, adding that the boat also may have capsized because of overloading. In addition to the at least 268 people aboard, the ship also was carrying many goods.
Boat accidents are also common in West Africa, where road systems are poor and many people rely on rickety watercraft to move their wares to market.
West Africa is currently being battered by the seasonal rains and storms that have killed about 160 people on land and displaced tens of thousands more, prompting governments across the region to seek international assistance.
Most passenger and fishing boats that usually ply the waters off Sierra Leone have remained on shore due to the poor weather.”