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163 Dead After Tanzania Ferry Sinks, More Than 100 Still Missing

"We found the survivors holding onto mattresses and fridges and anything that could float."

Survivors cling together in the water (Photo credit: BBC/Whirlwind Aviation)

STONE TOWN, Tanzania (The Blaze/AP) -- At least 163 people are dead and after an overloaded ferry carrying more than 500 people on board sank off the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar.

More than 100 people are still missing, according to the BBC, but 325 survivors have been rescued. Bodies are washing up on shore.

The ferry, M.V. Spice Islanders, was heavily overloaded and some potential passengers had refused to board when it was leaving the mainland port of Dar es Salaam, said survivor Abdullah Saied. It sank in an area with heavy currents in deep sea between mainland Tanzania and Pemba Island at about 1 a.m. Saturday.

"I realized something strange on the movement of the ship. It was like zigzag or dizziness," said 15-year-old Yahya Hussein, who survived by clinging to a plank of wood with three others. "After I noticed that I jumped to the rear side of ship and few minutes later the ship went lopsided."

Hussein said there had been many children aboard the ship.

After the ship began to list, water rushed through the main cabin and stopped the engines, said Mwita Massoud, another survivor.

The BBC reported:

Local helicopter pilot Captain Neels van Eijk flew over the disaster area.

"We found the survivors holding onto mattresses and fridges and anything that could float. It's hard to tell the exact numbers, but I'd say there were more than 200 survivors in the water and some bodies too," he told the BBC.

"By then, there were a few boats that had made their way out. They were looking for survivors, but although the sea wasn't so rough, the waves were high so it was difficult for them to spot them.

"We flew to the boats and guided them to the survivors so that they could pick them up. There were also quite a few bodies in the water."

"We appeal for calm to the public. The government is doing its best it can to handle the situation. There is no need to panic," said Mohammed Aboud Mohammed, the minister for state in the vice president's office.

In the hours after the sinking, the government strongly discouraged journalists from reporting the event and tried to restrict information about the accident.

The green and hilly island of Pemba is often described as one of the best scuba diving destinations in the world. Tanzania is heavily reliant on tourism to support its economy.

Thousands of residents mobbed the docks of Stone Town on Zanzibar, an island near Pemba, waiting for news. One man was screaming that he had lost 25 members of his family, including his sisters, his wife and grandsons. He was too upset to give his name. Many of the crowd were crying or screaming. All the shops were closed.

Many of those present expressed anger that the ship had been allowed to leave port so overloaded and called on government officials to resign. They said the island should have divers and rescue boats, but it only has a small vessel to try to stop smuggling.

In 2006, another ship capsized at the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, claiming hundreds of lives.

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