Friday 7 August 2009

Ferry disasters

More than 60 people are now feared to have drowned after the ferry Princess Ashika capsized off Tonga. There were 117 people aboard, and most of the victims are thought to be among those sleeping in cabins below deck – mainly women and children.

The vessel had been on its way from the capital Nuku'alofa to some of the country’s outlying northern islands. The cause of the shipwreck is not yet known, but the Tongan government said the ferry had passed safety inspections.

The world’s worst ferry disaster – indeed, its worst peacetime maritime disaster – was the sinking of the Do┼ła Paz in the Philippines just before Christmas 1987, after a collision with a tanker. Both vessels caught fire, and just two of the crew and 24 passengers were picked up by another ferry in the area.

No one knows exactly how many people drowned. According to the ship’s manifest, it was carrying 1,568 passengers, but often only the head of a family was counted, nor did the crew appear to have collected the names of people who bought tickets after boarding. So most estimates put the number drowned at between 3,000 and 4,375. For the story see A Disastrous History of the World.

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