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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 April 2019

Iraq ferry disaster: Death toll rises to 102

Arrests and angry scenes in Mosul after an overloaded ferry capsized

The number of people who drowned after a ferry capsized near in Mosul had risen to 102 on Saturday, CNN reported citing Iraqi officials.

The dead were mostly women and children celebrating the Nowruz new year and Mother's Day when the boat sank while crossing the Tigris River in Mosul.

Iraq began three days of national mourning on Friday - the day after the incident.

As the country's senior politicians visited Mosul to lend their support amid the tragedy, nine ferry company workers were detained and arrest warrants were issued for the owners of the vessel and the tourist site that was its destination.

After the overloaded ferry took on water and sank its passengers could be seen struggling to swim against a strong current, their heads bobbing in the water opposite restaurants and an amusement park. The boat had been ferrying people to a small island in the centre of the river.

Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi decreed the national mourning as he visited the site of the tragedy. He ordered a swift investigation "to determine responsibilities".

President Barham Saleh also rushed to the northern city, that is being rebuilt after it was devastated during its liberation from ISIS. He held meetings with security officials after visiting the scene of the disaster, where his motorcade was greeted by grieving and angry relatives of the victims.

Iraqi soldiers remove a protester accused attacking Iraqi President Barham Salih's motorcade in Mosul. Reuters
Iraqi soldiers remove a protester accused attacking Iraqi President Barham Salih's motorcade in Mosul. Reuters

The visit of Mosul's deeply unpopular, self-appointed governor Nofal Al Agub provoked fury among the relatives and chants of "no to corruption" were reported.

As he attempted to tour the site, a crowd of youths attacked his car with bricks, shattering windows.

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WATCH: Mosul Governor's SUV attacked

Credit: Ali Baroodi

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There were reports that his vehicle struck several people as he made his escape.

Mr Agup, who was suspended as Governor for two months over corruption and other serious allegations, caused controversy in January when he said that the situation in the city was “not as bad as it looks” despite its extremely damaged infrastructure and poor public services.

'It was a difficult situation'

Abdulrazzaq Falih, a rescuer with the river police of Mosul, said he pulled more than 20 bodies from the water.

"Children, women, and young, what can I tell you? It was a difficult situation," he said. An interior ministry spokesman said at least 61 women and 19 children were among the victims.

A man who identified himself as Abdul Jabbar Al Jbouri appealed for the police to look for his wife and children.

"My wife and three daughters are in the water!" he screamed.

Videos of the ferry disaster posted online showed people struggling against the strong current. Young men who had been lunching on the banks jumped into the water with their clothes on to try and save people.

High waters

The usually tame Tigris is running high this time of year, fed by snowmelt from mountains in Turkey. The river swelled further after a heavier rainy season compared to recent years.

Falah Al Taii, director of Nineveh health department, said the number of victims that arrived at the forensic department and in the hospitals in Mosul is more than 60.

"There is a large number of fathers and mothers who are looking for their children until now," he added.

Husam Khalil, head of Mosul's Civil Defence Authority, said on Thursday that the ferry's capacity was 50 passengers but there were as many as 250 on the boat that sank.

“It can normally carry 50 people. There were 250 on board before the incident,” Mr Khalil said.

He added that that there not many boats in the area to rescue people.

Saudi Aziz, a 23-year-old Kurd, said he was on another ferry crossing the river. He said the stricken boat was overloaded with around 150 people when it capsized. He said it wasn't long before he saw people drowning, their heads bobbing up and "sliding away across the water like plastic bags".

He said he jumped in the water and managed to save a 20-year-old woman.

"I cannot describe the scene, it's a catastrophe," he said.

Search operations stretched far downstream from the site where the boat sank.

Photos of victims, many of them women and children, were posted on the walls of a morgue for families unable to enter because of the large crowd who had gathered to identify their relatives.

One man, scanning over the pictures, stopped abruptly at the image of a woman.

In shock, he gasped "It's my wife", before collapsing in tears.

Children in the water

Nawar, who had been aboard the craft, said it had capsized in mid-stream.

"It was carrying too many passengers, so the water began to rush onboard and the ferry became heavier and overturned," he said. "With my own eyes I saw dead children in the water."

As ambulances shuttled back and forth to the morgue, three young girls and a boy were huddled together in a blanket, in tears, waiting for news of their missing parents.

A young boy is wrapped up in a towel after being rescued from the Tigris after a ferry capsizing near Mosul. Photo courtesy Civil Defence Nineveh Press via Storyful
A young boy is wrapped up in a towel after being rescued from the Tigris after a ferry capsizing near Mosul. Photo courtesy Civil Defence Nineveh Press via Storyful

"All we wanted was to celebrate the New Year and it turned into a catastrophe," a man passing the scene said.

Iraq's last major boat disaster was in March 2013 when a floating restaurant sank in Baghdad, killing five people.

Updated: March 23, 2019 04:46 AM

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