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Death Toll Rises To 73 In Djibouti Boat Accident
An injured man is carried on a stretcher on the shore after a Djibouti-flagged vessel sank off the coast of Djibouti
Djiboutians gather in front of a police station to look for information about their relatives after a Djibouti-flagged vessel sank off the coast of Djibouti , April 6, 2006.
Djibouti, April 8, 2006 – The death toll from a boat capsize off the coast of the Red Sea state of Djibouti rose to at least 73 as authorities reported the recovery of four more bodies, officials said.
The toll climbed as the search went on for some 20 people still believed to be missing as Djiboutian sailors righted the stricken vessel and pumped water from its holds for an investigation ordered by President Ismail Omar Guelleh.
Djibouti naval commander Colonel Abdourahman Aden Cher said on top of the 69 bodies recovered earlier, divers had found three more bodies around midnight and a fourth on Friday morning.
At least 77 people are believed to have survived Thursday's accident apparently caused by the overloading of the vessel with more than 200 passengers. The exact number that was on board, however, is unknown.
Cher said it was unlikely any more survivors would be found.
"The chances of finding survivors are very small but the navy will continue its search until all the missing are found," he said.
As hundreds of Djiboutians swarmed the port looking for relatives lost or presumed to have been on the boat, Guelleh said he had called for a thorough investigation into the accident.
"The exact circumstances of this tragedy must be known," Guelleh said in a message of condolence released to the nation.
"In these painful circumstances, my thoughts are with the families and close friends mourning the victims of this horrible event," he said.
The traditional wooden boat -- designed to transport cargo and not more than about 150 people -- appeared to be carrying between 250 to 300 passengers to a religious festival when it capsized as it left the Port of Djibouti, witnesses said.
Of 36 people reported injured in the accident, seven were still hospitalized with serious wounds on Friday, officials said.
Many of the dead and wounded were elderly and unable to swim, according to a Djiboutian official who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity and said the death toll could rise to between 80 and 90 once those missing were accounted for.
On Friday, the stricken boat was towed to a site near the port by the French military, where the Djiboutian navy took charge of the operation, officials said.
The ship was headed to the town of Tadjourah for a Muslim religious festival when it overturned, they said, adding the cause appeared to be an "imbalance" from too many passengers.
The state news agency, Agence Djiboutienne d'Information, reported that the vessel was carrying about 236 people, many of whom crowded to one side of the deck shortly before the accident.
Sailors from the navies of Djibouti and France, which maintains its largest military base in Africa in the former French colony, responded to the accident pulling survivors and bodies from the water.
After search and rescue operations were called off late Thursday, a French military official said the death toll would likely rise as more of the missing were recovered.
"We may find more bodies in the hull of the boat or in the sea," he said.
A spokesman for the US-led Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, which is also based in Djibouti, said the US divers had offered to assist but could not say if the offer had been accepted.
Djibouti, located at the southern end of the Red Sea on the Gulf of Aden, is a key staging post between the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean.