Zanzibar has promised stern punishment for those responsible for overloading a ferry that capsized off the coast of east Africa, killing nearly 200 people.

Rescue boats, helicopters and divers searched on Sunday for any remaining survivors but hopes were fading fast of finding anyone alive in the submerged wreck.

Zanzibar minister of state Mohamed Aboud Mohamed told a news conference the death toll from Saturday's disaster was 197, with 619 survivors, meaning the MV Spice islander was loaded with
over 200 more people than it was licensed to carry.

"The government will take stern measures against those found responsible for this tragedy, in accordance with the country's laws and regulations," he said. "We will not spare anyone."

The accident was the worst maritime disaster in the history of Zanzibar, Tanzania's semi-autonomous archipelago and popular tourist destination. In 1996, a Tanzanian ferry sank on Lake Victoria with as many as 1,000 aboard. Only 114 survived.

The government charged the captain and eight officials with the murder of 615 people.

'Already protesting'

Tanzania on Sunday began three days of national mourning for the victims of Saturday's disaster.

"According to what we've heard so far from survivors, the ship was overloaded with cargo from the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam, which included several vehicles, cement and iron rods," Mussa Alli Mussa, the police commissioner, told the Reuters news agency.
"Passengers who survived the accident told the police that the ship started taking in water from the cargo hold. That's when the vessel started to sink," he said.
The ferry capsized four hours into sailing between Unguja and Pemba, two of the three islands that make up Zanzibar, officials and witnesses said.

"Most of these private boats [which ply the routes between the islands] are old and often overloaded but the authorities let [them] go on. If nothing changes this won't be the last accident like this," said Abdurahman Alawi, who had seven members of his family on the doomed ferry.

"Out of the seven, only my niece, a young girl, survived,"he said.

"She is in hospital now. We were able to identify another member of the family, who was buried during the night. But with regard to the others, their bodies have not yet been recovered."

Zaid Amour, a 50-year-old survivor, put the blame "on those who did not prevent the boat from leaving".

Amour added: "We were already protesting to the captain and other people in the port before we left saying the boat was too full."

Source: Agencies