A very large number of people – some estimate that it could be over 2,000 – died on 11 September 2011 after a ferry they boarded from Unguja to Pemba sank several kilometres from its destination. Rescue boats, helicopters and divers reached the scene hours later and some 600 were rescued. Most survivors drifted ashore clinging to foam mattresses.
The ferry, MV Spice Islander, began its journey in Dar es Salaam, where it was loaded with passengers and cargo. When it reached Zanzibar it took on many more passengers for the trip to the smaller island of Pemba. The boat was said to have been grossly overloaded and some passengers complained of loss of balance even when the vessel was still in Zanzibar port. Two prospective brides were among the passengers, accompanied by 36 relatives; only four were rescued. Comparisons were made with the sinking of the MV Bukoba in 1996 (TA 55).
President Kikwete was forced to suspend a scheduled tour to Canada. Zanzibar President Dr Ali Mohamed Shein announced that there would be three days of mourning when flags would be flown at half mast. First Vice President of Zanzibar Seif Sharif Hamad announced that the government would launch a thorough investigation into the accident and take necessary actions – all media outlets featured this news very fully – Editor