By Lamin Cham
Businessman Mamsait Njie was called on the night of Thursday 26th September 2002 by the captain of one of his fleet of fishing boats seeking an order to set sail to rescue a sinking vessel. ”I gave the order and my crew sailed to find the big vessel three -quarter way sank. They were able to rescue 27 passengers including a French man and a pregnant woman,” Mr Njie recalled in an interview with The Standard on the 20th anniversary of one of the world’s deadliest boat disasters.
Mr Njie said the story of the Frenchman was interesting because in the darkness he spent all his energy saving the life of a woman he thought was his wife, who was traveling with him on the boat. ”When my crew rescued them, he came to realise that the woman he saved was not his wife and that his wife had in fact drowned along with over 1800 other passengers,” he said.
He revealed that the rescued passengers had wanted to be taken to Senegal but he instructed his crew to bring them to Gambian shores instead after which, early the following morning, he went to see the Senegalese High Commissioner, then one Mr NDiouga Ndiaye.
“I went there with Samuel Sarr, a former energy minister in Senegal who is my brother-in-law and we informed the High Commissioner who relayed the message to Dakar,” Njie recalled.
He said they then contacted the former CDS Col Baboucarr Jatta, who informed former president Yahy Jammeh who in turn instructed for all the survivors to be given fresh clothes and to prepare a ward for them in the hospital.
Later, upon receiving the information Mr Njie went on, and the gravity of the situation, Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade flew into Banjul to assess the situation. “I was invited to the airport and met both Jammeh and Wade. I was interviewed by the RTS Director General Ababacarr Diagne, who informed me that the Senegalese government is happy to refund all expenses I may have incurred but I declined the offer and told him that the grief is shared by both countries,” Njie said. The businessman was later invited to Dakar where he was decorated by President Wade for his humanitarian service.
Asked what lessons can be learnt from the incident, Mr Njie said there is need for safety rules to be laid and adhered to in transportation.
“It is very common for Africans to ignore safety guidelines especially over loading which seemed to be the case with The Joola,” he said.