“The sinking of the “Joola” has no place in our memories, because it is an African catastrophe”

The cross : Why did this ship overturn in a few seconds in the ocean?

Adrian Absolute: The causes of this disaster are now well established. The ship was overloaded, due in particular to the start of the academic year: it was carrying three times as many people as the authorized tonnage. Although fairly recent in design, having left its shipyard in 1990, the Joola was poorly maintained. It was in the hands of a poorly trained, poorly supervised and poorly paid crew.

And finally, he suffered that night from very rough weather. All of these factors combined to make the Joola finds himself in a position where he has lost his stability and has rolled over. The ship was under the responsibility of the navy, since it also convoyed soldiers and played an important role in the armed struggle against the Casamance separatists.

Once the Joola returned, the passengers were trapped?

AA: Most died immediately, drowned or crushed under the weight of other passengers. Some were able to find air pockets and waited for help, others were able to regain the surface and cling to the hull. Help arrived 18 hours after the sinking and they were unable to find a way to save the last passengers who had taken refuge in the hull. Only 64 people escaped death.

There is only one woman among the 64 survivors, why do you think?

AA: She could swim, which is unusual among Casamance women. It may also be a matter of physical strength. It was necessary to survive an entire night waiting for help, to climb onto the hull or at least cling to it.

From the point of view of Senegalese justice, what happened?

AA: There was a lawsuit in Dakar in 2003 against those responsible for maintenance, the crew and the way in which the voyages were to be carried out.

Among these officials, the chief of staff of the navy, members of the government, deputies. Only the commander, who disappeared in the disaster, was found guilty. The others received a dismissal.

French justice was also seized by the families of the French victims. Why didn’t it do anything?

AA: French justice has issued nine international arrest warrants against Senegalese officials, including the then head of government and two ministers. But the Council of State ruled that this procedure was an interference in Senegalese justice, and therefore canceled it.

Paris didn’t want to get angry with Dakar?

AA: The highest French legal authorities have interpreted the law in a certain way. I cannot say that this decision was political. But neither can I deny the central importance of Senegal for France’s interests in West Africa and for sub-regional and international organizations. Issuing arrest warrants against senior Senegalese officials is not easy between friendly countries.

→ ARCHIVE. French justice targets Senegalese officials in the sinking of the « Joola »

How do you explain that this disaster does not have a great place in our memories, unlike many others?

AA: It is the greatest catastrophe in the history of the civil navy. But it hit an African country, the victims are mainly Senegalese from the working class, whose weight on the international scene is nil. And then there was a broad consensus that those responsible should not be punished.

Twenty years later, what are the victims asking for?

AA: Justice, of course, but also reparations worthy of the name. They also want memorials: in Senegal as in France, there are still none. Finally, they would like to recover personal effects, or that pieces of the wreckage be reassembled to have the names of all the victims engraved on them: the Joola is only 15 meters deep. But the Senegalese political and military leaders of the time were in no hurry for this to happen.


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