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Ferry Sinks Off Gambia, Killing 41

September 27, 2002

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DAKAR, Senegal (AP) _ An ocean ferry sank off West Africa in a fierce storm, killing 41 and leaving at least 723 passengers and crew reported missing Friday.

Another 32 crew members and passengers were rescued after the ferry went down about 11 p.m. Thursday, Senegal Prime Minister Mame Madior Boye said.

Authorities said a passing Italian ship retrieved at least some of the survivors from the state-owned ferry, which had been crossing from north to south Senegal with 796 people on board.

Wailing families and friends rushed to the port in Senegal’s capital, sobbing and pounding their heads on walls.

``God have mercy! Pray! Pray everyone!″ one woman, waiting with the rest for news of loved ones, pleaded. ``Stop crying!″

Senegal declared three days of national mourning at midday Friday as the search for victims continued. Boye and other state officials went to the port to be with families.

President Abdoulaye Wade cut short a trip to France to return home in face of the disaster.

The state-owned ferry, the Joola, was en route from Senegal’s southern region of Casamance, bound for Dakar, the capital. It went down in strong gales and rain in the Atlantic Ocean off Gambia, a small former English colony that divides north and south Senegal.

Ferries are the main way of transportation between north and south Senegal, since travel by road is slowed by border checks passing through Gambia.

Media reports said the ferry had undergone repairs, and had only recently returned to service after months in dock.

Angry men thronging the port denounced authorities, claiming the ferry had been riding low on one side, and never should have been allowed out of port.

The first corpses retrieved from the accident were being taken back to the port Friday afternoon.

Update hourly