Dakar, Sept. 28 (Reuters): Rescuers held out little hope today of finding some 540 people still missing after a Senegalese ferry capsized in stormy seas off the coast of Gambia.
Of the 796 people listed on board the ferry Le Joola, 104 had been saved, rescue officials in Dakar said.
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, responding to protests outside the presidential palace over the fate of the passengers, said 150 corpses had so far been been recovered and brought to Gambia.
Hundreds of relatives, meanwhile, assembled at the port of Dakar to await news of their loved ones, but the prospect of search boats discovering more survivors from one of Africa’s worst boat tragedies began to dim. Protesters demanded to know how many people had died in the disaster.
President Wade came out of his palace to speak to the demonstrators and said he understood their grief after officials acknowledged the boat was overloaded when it capsized.
Wade said the state-owned boat, which was operated by the army, was not fit to venture into open seas.
“It was a boat designed for lakes. It was not made for the sea. The responsibility of the state is clear,” said Wade, adding the families of the victims would receive compensation. Few believed the fishing trawlers from the Senegal navy would find more passengers alive.