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Rescue Efforts Continue for Survivors of Sunken Senegalese Ferry - 2002-09-28

Rescue crews are combing the waters off Senegal and Gambia in hopes of finding more survivors after a Senegalese ferry sank late Thursday with at least 796 people aboard.

Hopes were fading Saturday as rescue crews aboard fishing boats looked for more survivors following the sinking.

Senegalese officials say about 60 people were rescued alive on Friday, but approximately 700 others remain missing.

Fishing boats brought bodies ashore as relatives of passengers gathered at the dock to hear word of whether there were any more survivors.

The Joola, a Senegalese-operated ferry, was traveling between the southern Senegalese province of Casamance to the capital in the north, Dakar. Officials say it came across rough weather off the coast of Gambia, a small nation that lies between the northern and southern regions of Senegal.

Survivors were taken to hospitals in Dakar and in the Gambian capital, Banjul.

Some of the passengers' relatives expressed anger and speculated that the vessel might have been overloaded. The boat had been in service for one month after it underwent repairs for about a year.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade has ordered an investigation to determine the cause of the disaster.

Some people who called into private radio stations in Dakar complained that officials had waited until Friday morning to announce the disaster, after the ferry sank early Thursday.

The Joola's passengers included students, traders and some French tourists. People in Senegal often prefer to take the ferry between the northern and southern regions because travel by road is complicated as a result of a separatist rebellion that has been festering in Casamance for nearly 20 years.