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Senegal Marks Anniversary of Ferry Disaster Amid Court Cases

Senegal marked the sixth anniversary of one of the worst maritime disasters in history, the sinking of a ferry boat that killed some 1,800 people. The event comes amid a diplomatic row and lingering resentment on the part of the victims' families. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from Dakar.

Relatives of the victims of the Joola ferry gathered Friday under pouring rain at a small cemetery in southern Senegal for prayers led by Muslim and Christian preachers.

The remembrance ceremony came six years after the ferry sank in stormy seas off the coast of neighboring Gambia. Official figures say the ferry, which was licensed to carry 550 passengers, was carrying more than 1,900 people. Only 64 survived, making it one of the worst maritime disasters in modern history.

In addition less than one-half of victims' bodies were recovered. A spokesmen for families of the victims, Nassardine Aldara, lost four children in the accident. He says anger is still intense.

Aldara says of all the promises made by the Senegalese government only the issue of compensation has been settled. And some families have refused to accept the offer of $22,000 per victim because they believe justice has not been rendered.

The Senegalese government fired several officials following the incident but no one was prosecuted and the case was closed one year later.

The ferry carried foreigners from Europe and other African nations, including 22 people of French nationality.

Two weeks ago in France Judge Jean Wilfried Noel issued international arrest warrants against nine senior Senegalese officials including a former prime minister, transportation minister and head of the armed forces. The warrants charged them with negligent manslaughter and failure to help people in danger.

A Senegalese judge on Thursday issued a warrant for the arrest of the French judge on charges of abuse of authority.

Senegalese officials all the way up to the president were angered by the French warrants saying they represent unwarranted interference in a Senegalese legal case. The French government has declined to intervene, straining relations between the two countries.

Many Senegalese agree with the government but family members of many of the victims back the French judge saying they want justice even if it comes from another country.

 

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