YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Thirty-two people, most of them soldiers with Cameroon’s elite Rapid Intervention Battalion, remain unaccounted for after their ship capsized off the coast of the Bakassi Peninsula over a week ago. Relatives of the missing are demanding answers.
Dozens come every evening to comfort the residents of a house in the Yaounde-Nkoabang neighborhood of the capital. It is the home of Alex Alega, one of the 32 soldiers still missing after a Cameroonian military vessel went down off the Atlantic coast July 16.
His brother, Theophile, is anxious for news. He says it is unacceptable that, to date, the military has not explained to the Cameroonian people what happened and why it has not been able to retrieve the corpses. He says the military should provide an account of what happened.
The Defense Ministry issued a written statement the day of the incident, saying the circumstances had not yet been established. No other statement has been released since then.
The military logistics ship was carrying 37 people when it went down. Three soldiers were rescued, and two victims were retrieved from the vessel three days later.
However, Colonel Henri Belinga, commander of the coast guard sector of Cameroon's elite corps, says harsh weather has made it difficult to carry out search-and-retrieval missions.
Belinga says operations continue to try to recover the bodies from the vessel, which is 35 meters underwater. He says he wants to reiterate that this was an accident. He says they have asked for and obtained the support of the navy to help them find the bodies.
The Bakassi Peninsula remains a site of some tension in Cameroon. It was the source of a decades-long border dispute with Nigeria. Nigeria officially ceded the oil-rich peninsula to Cameroon in 2008 following a ruling by the International Court of Justice.
Belinga told VOA reports that the ship may have been attacked by pirates protesting alleged bad treatment of Nigerians in the Bakassi Peninsula are false.
The vessel was transporting equipment for construction work at a military base on the peninsula. Officials say the construction work and the transfer of supplies to troops in Bakassi have been halted since the lone supply vessel sank.