Unlike the Titanic, the name ‘MV Le Joola’ doesn’t ring a bell, and the question remains ‘why’? A recent poll conducted on Twitter revealed that out of the 3,123 respondents, only 11 knew about MV Le Joola. They knew about it because they had relatives or friends who had lost a loved one in the disaster.
It is disheartening that twenty years after the deadly MV Le Joola shipwreck, which claimed more lives than the Titanic, many Africans still haven’t heard of it.
The ship had been out of service for about a year before the disaster occurred. During that time, it was said to be undergoing repairs, including replacing the port engine.
Apart from a poorly edited Wikipedia page and a handful of news reports, very little has been said about the MV Le Joola. Reports of the disaster are absent on many mainstream media platforms, there are no high profile movies about it, and no one is talking about it – even in Africa – and sadly so.
If you have never heard anything about the MV Le Joola or know very little about the second-worst non-military maritime disaster in the world that occurred in Africa, you are not alone. But it is not too late to learn what you need to know.
What is MV Le Joola?
MV Le Joola is the name of a roll-on/roll-off ship belonging to the Senegalese government. It was a luxury ferry like the Titanic, which fetched the Senegalese government millions of dollars in direct and indirect revenue yearly.
It was named after the Jola people of southern Senegal. The MV Le Joola was constructed in Germany and delivered to Senegal in 1990. It was 79 m (259 ft 2 in) long and 12 m (39 ft 4 in) wide. It was also reported to be equipped with two motors.
The ship capsized on 26 September 2002 off the coast of The Gambia, killing 1,863 of the people on board the voyage. Only 64 survivors were recorded, and to date, the incident is the second-worst non-military disaster in the maritime industry worldwide – with regard to the number of lives lost.
After the tragedy, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade dismissed Prime Minister Mame Madior Boye and her cabinet members reportedly for mishandling the rescue.
The MV Le Joola Tragedy
The MV Le Joola set sail on 26 September 2002 at precisely 1:30 pm (Western African Time) from Ziguinchor in the Casamance region on what should have been one of its frequent trips between southern Senegal and Dakar.
According to reports, the ship, which was originally designated to carry a maximum of 580 passengers and crew, had over 1,900 passengers on board on that fateful day. Although the official passenger manifest for the voyage revealed that there were 1,034 travelers with tickets, it was believed that there were about 2,000 people on board the MV Le Joola (passengers and crew members.)
However, officials say that not all the other passengers illegally boarded the ship, as children less than five years were not required to purchase tickets or be formally registered. Also, being a government-owned ship, there were always government officials and their relatives or friends who didn’t require tickets to board and were permitted to travel with the ship for free.
Records reveal that around 10 pm, a call broadcast from the ship reported good sailing conditions. However, by 11 pm, the ship sailed into a storm off the coast of The Gambia and capsized, and within 5 minutes, everyone and cargo had been thrown into the sea.
Government rescue teams did not get to the scene of the incident until the following morning, and with the help of local fishermen, only 64 persons could be rescued. Out of the over 600 women on board the MV Le Joola, only one woman, Mariama Diouf, survived. She was pregnant at that time.
What Happened After the MV Le Joola Ship Wreck?
After the shipwreck, the Senegalese government set up a committee to open an inquiry into the disaster. The committee blamed negligence for the high loss of lives. Relatives of the diseased and critics accused the then president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, and prime minister of Senegal, Mame Madior Boye, as the principal culprits.
The Senegalese government offered a payment of around US$22,000 per victim to families of the diseased, and official inquiries into the incident were closed a year after the disaster.
However, the families of French victims refused the reparations packages and sued the Senegalese authorities in court.