March 26, 2023

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Senegal: 20 years after Joula sinks, Giguinchor is still healing its wounds

#Senegal : Twenty years after the sinking of the Senegalese ferry Le Joula, which killed nearly 1,900 people, the southern city of Jiguinchor commemorated the tragedy on Monday, its “wound still not healed”.

At first, when the rumor spread, no one dared to believe it. “It was unbelievable,” recalls Nauha Cisse, the principal of the city’s largest high school. About 150 of his students died.

Here, the boat was part of the decor. It is the cordon between Gambia in the north and Guinea-Bissau in the south, connecting Casamance with the capital Dakar. It was similar to opening.

This isolated region has been plagued by an independence insurgency since the 1980s, and in the month of September 2002, attacks on the roads resumed.

Ferry is the safest and cheapest mode of transportation. Casamanzais use it to sell products from this agricultural area. At this time of year, students return to the university in Tucker. Tourists are also there to discover the beauty of this region with wild beaches and lush green paddy fields.

>>> Read More: Video. Senegal: 19 years after the sinking of the “Le Joula” boat, the memory still hurts.

On September 26, 1,928 people officially boarded, while the boat’s capacity was limited to 536 passengers.

Jula was on everyone’s lips the next morning. He disappeared. Some say the bodies were taken. Word passes from one family to another. People cower in fear and storm towards the harbour.


Around 10 am, the Prime Minister announced that the boat had capsized. “There, in Ziguinchor, it was unbearable. No one could console anyone. Some people came to rope because they threatened to jump into the water. They lost everything,” recalled journalist Ibrahima Kassama, who covered the event for Sud FM radio. .

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“It was really a disaster. People were crossing paths. There is a death in this house, a death in another, a death opposite. In all of Ziguinchor, it was like that”, recalled 65-year-old Kathitiado Diop. Bereft of mother, son-in-law and relatives.

The official count is 1,863 dead and missing, with more than 2,000 from 12 different countries, according to victims’ associations. Sixty-five people survived.

>>> Read More: Video. Stopping the Dakar-Ziguinchor sea link, a test for Jula market women

It was one of the largest known maritime disasters. Almost half of the victims were from Ziguinchor.

Twenty years later, the shock is still there.

“It is a wound that has not yet healed. I don’t think it will because the behavior followed in managing this disaster is a second shipwreck,” said journalist Ibrahima Ghassama.

Beyond the personal and collective responsibility of those who chartered an unreliable boat, he points to the lack of help that arrived too late the next day and the “lies” of the authorities on the number of victims.


In Senegal, a judicial inquiry concluded that the missing captain was solely responsible for the sinking. The officers concerned have not been sanctioned and even promoted.

Hopes for justice in France, where 18 nationals died, were dashed by the final dismissal after years of proceedings.

>>> Read More: Shipwreck in Bidenti: Senegal 2,000 dead, lessons not learned from “Jula”

If compensation had been paid to the families of the victims, Mackie Sall would never have moved to the annual celebrations as head of state. The memorial at Ziguinchor, which had been promised for years, was not yet completed.

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The bailout of the ship, which remains at a depth of about twenty meters, with many bodies trapped in its bowels, has not yet been initiated, as has always been demanded by the victims’ associations.

Victims’ associations have been forced to abandon some of the activities planned for Monday after they did not receive a response from the authorities.

In Ziguinchor, on every birthday, “everyone gathers together to pray. But for us, those involved, it’s every day”, says Mrs Diop confidently. “From 2002 to today, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about the boat”.

The memory of drama fades from this town of quiet and airy alleys, on the banks of the river Casamance
“It is true that the initial years saw very large mobilizations around commemorations,” says the former headmaster. But “this sentimental relationship has gradually declined”.

“This shipwreck may have been a sign of a change in the behavior of Senegal in general. But hunt nature and it comes back with a vengeance. Laxity and laxity are back in effect,” he laments.