Death toll rises to six in Gabon boat capsizing, 31 missing

The provisional toll of the sinking of a small yacht off the coast of Gabon on Thursday stood at six dead and 31 missing and it may now be possible to return other remains to the families of victims from the located wreck which has been waiting for them at the dock for more than four days For.

Dozens of relatives of the disappeared and many Gabonese supporters have camped at the pier of Porte Mole, the capital Libreville’s commercial port from where the Esther Miracle sailed, has been reduced to a burning chapel.

The pain gave way to panic and anger, families reproached the authorities for not informing them and rescuers intervened too late, even though 124 of the officially registered 161 passengers and crew survived the water. were able to come out.

Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba announced three days of national mourning on March 14, 15 and 16 in a speech broadcast on national television on Monday evening.

– Ship position –

Additionally, social networks and media are questioning the status of the ship and the navigation authorizations issued to this mixed cargo and passenger transport boat from the private company Royal Coast Marine (RCM).

Map of Gabon (AFP/Archive – Jean-Michel Cornu)

Its age is unknown, the RCM is not accessible, but it was inaugurated in November after the development of a cabin for passengers, at lower prices than other companies between Libreville and the oil port of Port Nice. Ship owner’s website According to, 150 km further south.

An administrative investigation and a criminal investigation have been launched to determine the cause of the sinking. Officials and prosecutors decline to discuss the subject at this stage.

According to several fishermen and ship owners interviewed by AFP, the ship sank in the middle of the night when the sea and weather were relatively calm.

The research coordinator, Captain Bekele Mayong, told Gabon Premier Public Television on Monday that the wreckage was located “at a depth of 30 meters and in a sitting position” on Sunday. They located the wreck 10 km from the coast near the entrance to the bay that is home to Libreville.

The day before, Prime Minister Alain-Claude Billie-by-Nez promised the families that the search would not stop until the boat was located because “we were not sure of bringing up the whole body”.

– Spirited Chapel –

Since Saturday, Port Molle has taken on the appearance of a large burning chapel, after authorities came under pressure from angry testimonies on social networks from families who camped day and night and said they had been “abandoned”. was given, they began to erect and fortify tents. A hungry psychological cell in the early days of the play.

Friends and relatives pay tribute to those who died in the sinking of a ferry in Libreville on March 13, 2023 (AFP - Steve Jordan)
Friends and relatives pay tribute to those who died in the sinking of a ferry in Libreville on March 13, 2023 (AFP – Steve Jordan)

In her gaudy yellow loincloth, Colette kneels and lights a white candle, which she places on a bed of wax covering the asphalt, which rests on photographs of the shipwreck’s victims.

“I come in solidarity to pray and help. We have several associations to distribute food and water”, explains the educational inspector.

“List of missing relatives,” reads a wooden sign displaying 31 names.

White plastic chairs are arranged under three Barnums. On Monday a quarter facing the crowd was installed as well as toilets and a generator.

Hundreds of people follow each other to light candles, lay flowers and make offerings. Under tents, some pray in silence, others sing their despair in prayer.

– Warning –

His megaphone in hand, Jeff Basanta, criss-crosses the port. The 30-year-old, a spokesperson for the Family Support Collective, provides updates on the research twice a day. His “little sister” has not yet been found.

Friends and relatives pay tribute to those who died in the sinking of a ferry in Libreville on March 13, 2023 (AFP - Steve Jordan)
Friends and relatives pay tribute to those who died in the sinking of a ferry in Libreville, March 13, 2023 (AFP – Steve Jordan)

“We want answers. No one has come to us. From here you can easily see what is happening,” he explains.

“It’s pathetic. For a rescue of this magnitude, we haven’t even seen the bare minimum,” says 49-year-old Eve Mouambatsi, a family of four missing.

“A distress alert was launched at 2am from the boat and we remember the public authority did nothing. It took a private boat!” their families, several hours after the drowning.

“We know there is no hope of finding him alive, but we need to recover his body”, breathes 32-year-old Fernanda Akare. “I hope the investigation will reveal the real causes of the accident as there is too much speculation, we want the truth!”, she says.

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