Families demand justice as toll in Mosul boat disaster hits 103

Locals have attributed the Tigris River accident to overcrowding, saying vessel only had a 50-passenger capacity.

    Locals stand on the bank of Tigris River, close to where to ferry sank [Anadolu Agency]
    Locals stand on the bank of Tigris River, close to where to ferry sank [Anadolu Agency]

    Grief-stricken residents in Iraq's northern city of Mosul are demanding justice after the sinking of a ferry packed with families killed more 100 people, including children.

    The vessel, which was carrying people celebrating both the Nowruz holiday and Mother's Day, capsized on Thursday in Tigris River.

    "The number of casualties has risen to 103, while an estimated 50 more remain missing," Ghazwan al-Daoudi, a member of Nineveh's provincial council, told Anadolu Agency on Friday.

    "We believe the ferryboat was carrying about 200 passengers when it sank," he added.

    In the early hours of Friday, local authorities said 55 survivors had been pulled from the river near Mosul, the regional capital of Nineveh province.

    According to al-Daoudi, the council will convene an emergency session later in the day in which "all those involved in the incident" would be present.

    'Brought to justice'

    Earlier on Friday, relatives of the victims went to local hospitals to collect bodies of their loved ones in advance of funerals. Some chanted: "No to corruption!" and "They are all thieves."

    "How can a ferry sail with no means of rescue available," asked Dalia Mahmoud, a woman who was standing outside the coroner's office.

    At the scene of the accident, where prayers were held for the dead, many said the disaster could have been avoided.

    "We want those responsible to be brought to justice," said Mohammed Adel, 27, whose father was among those who died. He accused officials of failing to enforce safety standards.

    A relative of one of the victims who died after an overloaded ferry sank in Tigris river near Mosul, cries during his funeral at Mosul cemetery [Ari Jalal/Reuters]

    PM's visit

    Although no official statements have been issued regarding the cause of the accident, local residents have attributed it to overcrowding, saying the ferry only had a 50-passenger capacity.

    After visiting the scene of the accident alongside President Barham Saleh, Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi declared three days of national mourning. He said the justice system "must do its job and the investigation must produce results on the reasons for this shipwreck".

    According to a statement released late Thursday by Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council, nine people have been detained so far in connection with the incident.

    Meanwhile, witnesses told Anadolu Agency that angry local residents, including several relatives of the victims, chanted slogans and hurled shoes at Nineveh Governor Nofal al-Akoub following his arrival to the site of the ferryboat accident. 

    As al-Akoub's convoy attempted to flee the scene, two people - both relatives of the victims - were run over in the confusion, according to witnesses. The extent of their injuries remains unknown. 

    Calls for accountability

    The spiritual leader of Iraq's Shia majority Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for accountability for those responsible for the sinking and urged officials whose ministries were linked to the tragedy to resign.

    Al-Sistani's message was delivered by his representative Ahmed al-Safi in the Shia holy city of Karbala.

    Meanwhile, Pope Francis sent a telegram of condolences to Iraqi authorities, expressing his "prayerful solidarity" with all those who lost loved ones. 

    The sinking of the ferry was a tragic blow to Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city that is still struggling to overcome the devastation wreaked by ISIL.

    The armed group, also known as ISIS, captured Mosul it in the summer of 2014, making the city its main stronghold in Iraq. After US-backed Iraqi forces retook it three years later, in July 2017, much of Mosul was left in ruins.

    "We lost a lot because of Daesh and we will not accept to lose more," said Mahmoud, using an Arabic name to refer to ISIL.

    Overloaded ferry sinks in Iraq's Tigris River, at least 100 die (1:32)

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies