Hussein Ally Hamad (62), a resident of Tandika Kwa Maguruwe in Temeke district, Dar es Salaam region is grief stricken, an acute sufferer from the recent marine tragedy where MV Skagit, an Isles registered passenger steamer, sank at Chumbe Islet, 30 km off the coast of Dar es Salaam city.
Hamad who lost three sons and other close relatives finds it difficult to narrate the misfortune befalling him and his family. He is a father of eight children and a native of Pemba Island conducting trading activities in Dar, where he raised his family.
It is not only the aftermath of the accident that makes him lonely but he is still trying to recover from the pangs of the sinking of MV Spice Islander last September near Nungwi Islet north of Zanzibar Island.
In the Nungwi accident he lost his daughter and a younger brother, two of more than 1,500 people in an accident described as the worst ever along the eastern coast of Africa.
It is one of those situations where someone asks why he has to suffer that much, prefers not to blame anyone and leaves the matter to the Almighty as only He has an answer to why all this happened to him.
He told The Guardian on Sunday in an interview late last week at the port, preparing to get a ticket on an Azam Marine boat for Zanzibar to attend the state funeral ceremony led by Zanzibar President Dr Ali Mohammed Shein for those who perished in the MV Skagit disaster.
“I am actually feeling painful as I remember my lost two sons, relatives and a daughter including some other family members who perished in the previous marine disaster,” he said with tears rolling down his cheeks, evidence of how fresh the tragedy was in his mind.
In another development, relatives of bereaved families who perished in the MV Skagit disaster have urged rapid investigations to establish the cause of the accident.
A cross section of a grief stricken relatives said in sporadic interviews that the government must be open and transparent with the report on the accident. The tragic incident numbed senses of many people especially in the Isles, still in pain following the MV Spice Islander disaster.
Following the MV Skagit disaster, Dr Shein formed a probe commission of ten people to carry out investigation to establish the cause of the accident and its report be presented before the House of Representatives and also be made public.
Zanzibar State House permanent secretary Dr Abdulhamid Yahya said in a statement early this week that the President had appointed Judge Abdulhakim Ameir Issa to lead a ten man team of experts in marine and legal issues as well as rescue operations.
Judge Abdulhakim and others were in the commission of inquiry on the MV Spice Islander sinking, while the latest disaster claimed the position of Zanzibar Minister for Infrastructure and Communications Hamad Masoud Hamad who stepped down early this week.
Available information indicates that MV Skagit was built in 1989 at Halter Marine in New Orleans, Louisiana and was operating in Seattle in Washington State in the United States. It was stopped from operating in 2009 due to its old age and time expiry of its existence.
The former Washington ferry served on the Seattle-Vashon Island route since its construction in 1989 before it was discarded and declared unsafe to sail by the US government four years ago. However, despite its bad state, it was sold to greedy businessmen and transported to Tanzania.
Before its purchase, the Washington State Ferries (WSF) the original owner, in the US tried to sell the vessel and another of its sister company, MV Kalama for $900,000 since 2009 but found no potential buyers for both obsolete vessels.
However, the two ferries were finally sold for a combined price of just $400,000 to Seagull Services Ltd based in Zanzibar and transported to operate in Tanzania in 2011. They arrived in Zanzibar in 2011 and were given full registration by Zanzibar Marine Authority (ZMA) with numbers 100144.
On arrival of the MV Skagit, its buyer altered its original design of the vessel and added yet another deck to accommodate more passengers and cargo contrary to regulations, which requires that a ship maintain the capacity originally designed for it as the boats were to carry passengers only.
A senior marine official who spoke on condition of anonymity told this paper at the port on Sunday that inadequate safety measures, careless inspection of marine vessels, and lack of seriousness among government officials both in Mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar are to blame for the recent disaster.
However, he noted controversial circumstances surrounding the registration of MV Skagit which was sold to Seagull Company. It should never have been allowed to set sail in Dar es Salaam port for its lifespan to navigate in sea waters had expired.
Sought for comments over the charges, the Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority (SUMATRA) stated that registration rules and procedures for ZMA are not the same as those observed on the Mainland.
SUMATRA’s Public Affairs Manager David Mziray said that the authority does not provide registration to a marine vessel constructed with a lifespan of less than 20 years. In the case of MV Skagit, it had issued a certificate of standards which was to expire mid next month, he said.
Declining further comment, he said the Zanzibar Marine Authority knows more on the ill fated vessel, and that SUMATRA accepted it to operate and docked at Dar port on the basis of its Isles registration.
Meanwhile, a Dar es Salaam based human right activist who preferred anonymity has called on the government to look at the levels of the accountability for the accident by SUMATRA and ZMA. “The two authorities should give authentic facts as they are close to the registration of the voyaging boats in sea waters,” he said.
However, official sources indicate that the matter is being handled entirely by ZMA who registered the ship to operate between Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam.