A decade has passed since that terrible Saturday of September 10, 2011 of the worst sea tragedy experienced by the people of Zanzibar in recent history.
It was the day when more than 1,500 people who were on board of Mv.Spice Islander lost their lives on their way to Pemba from Unguja.
It was a tragedy that painfully affected almost everyone for either losing a parent, a family member, a class, school or working mate, a friend or a neighbour.
The calamity left dozens of children living without their mothers and those who were married without their spouses.
Every one of those who died was the most important person on earth to somebody.
We remember the courage of the rescue workers, law enforcing officers and volunteers and the outpouring of friendship and sympathy from nations around the world. We remember how we felt that day: our sadness, the surge of love for our country, our sorrow, and our determination to accept calamity as a test from the Almighty God.
The official capacity of the boat which capsized about four hours after departing from the Zanzibar was 45 crew members and 645 passengers, but it was reported to be heavily overloaded.
Of those on board, around 620 were rescued, with at least 40 of them suffering serious injuries.
One year later, at least 63 people died in the disaster and about 145 were rescued, after the MV Skagit ferry had left the city of Dar es Salaam on mainland Tanzania on Wednesday with 290 people on board sank near Zanzibar.
Earlier reports indicated that the Mv Islander was carrying about 800 people at the time of her sinking and by 12 September, it was reported that over 240 bodies had been recovered.
However, on 14 October, the government confirmed that the vessel had in fact carried 3,586 passengers, of whom 2,764 were unaccounted for.
In an investigative report published on 19 January 2012, these figures were revised downward, with 2,470 passengers, 203 confirmed dead and 1,370 missing.
In addition to passengers, the ferry also carried worth millions of shillings.
The ship was said to have capsized after losing engine power.
On January 19, 2012, the government released a report of a 10 man probe team led a Zanzibar High Court Judge, Abdulhakim Ameir Issa which was set up to find out the causes of the accident.
The report said the cause was overcrowding, poor luggage management, technical faults, water intrusion and the captain’s negligence.
It also provided an official count of the missing and drowned people at 1370.
The investigation revealed that there were 2,470 passengers on board while its capacity was 620, four times than its capacity.
The commission said the ferry’s defects were known since July, two months before it sank following an inspection by the Mainland Maritime Safety Institute, SUMATRA, but the ferry was still licensed.
The report said many people were to blame for their negligence, the result of which was the tragedy.
They include officers and sailors of the vessel, port and police officers and revenue collectors who received cash contrary to procedures so as to ‘help’ those who were denied tickets.
The commission recommended some people to be prosecuted and listed the offenses they were alleged to have committed and the police arrested them during their investigation.
The report also mentioned other people, including high ranking government officials, who appeared to be eligible for disciplinary action.
Fortunately, the ferry was insured, but its package did not cover cargo and the Commission recommended payment of compensation of at least Sh10 million for each of the deceased and those officially classified as missing.
Today, many people who lost their relatives and other loved ones still have heartache.
Critics and those badly affected by the disaster blame the media for keeping silent, as hundreds of orphans and widows scream in agony, believing the media has forgotten the disaster and not responsible enough to help them get their rights.
Investigations carried out by the Zanzibar Mail has revealed that relatives of the deceased, survivors and some members of the public regret that there has been no serious implementation of the recommendations made by the probe team.
Some of those who talked to the Mail appealed for the implementation of the recommendations of the report.
“We go through a lot of pain and nothing has been achieved and the media is not ready to help us,” said a resident of Kilimahewa who lost his wife and children.
However, nowadays, the scenario of the Zanzibar media has changed with the public pressing it to come forward and play its role of a public watch dog effectively.
The Zanzibar Mail interviewed journalists, advocates and civil society actors to see how a decade after the accident, the journalists receive the public outcry for them to effectively play their role of being a voice of the voiceless.
“Despite some development pace, Zanzibar does not have a strong culture of accountability,” a senior journalist told the Mail.
Therefore he said the Zanzibar journalists and media outlets can no longer afford to ignore the resounding calls for accountability.
“Even traditional media outlets, the majority of which are owned by or affiliated with the government, have to shift their priorities. Placing politicians at the forefront of news coverage, instead of issues that matter to citizens was “no longer tolerable,” he said.
He said the eighth phase government has made it clear that it wants the media to be responsible and this has repeatedly been reiterated by the President of Zanzibar (Hussein Mwinyi) when speaking about accountability on issues related to public interest.
“This can only bear fruits if the media puts emphasis on investigative stories so that the government can take action on those whose performance in the civil service and public institutions is not clean,” he said.
He added that if the media will focus on investigative stories many of the challenges facing the community would be addressed quickly.
“Though this is a promising direction for the mainstream media, however, it’s still unclear whether it will continue if the media itself does not show resilience to help the government expose evils within the community and the government itself,” said another journalist.
Dr. Mzee Ali, a lecturer at the State University of Zanzibar (SUZA) noted that journalists have a responsibility to support the community and ensure leaders are accountable to the people.
“The right to receive and disseminate information is enshrined in section 18 of the Zanzibar Constitution. The responsibility to provide information to the public rests with the press, you cannot ignore this responsibility,” he said.
He reminded the Isles journalists that it is unprofessional and unethical to ignore the public outcry on its performance on serious issues.