MV SKAGIT, Former U.S. Ferry Capsizes Off Tanzanian Coast

August 14, 2012

UPDATE:  The final death toll in the capsizing of the m.v. SKAGIT off the island of Zanzibar has been set at 144.  The ferry did in fact capsize in heavy seas which turned it completely upside down, its quadruple screws pointing towards the sky.  The three men most responsible for her sailing Captain Mussa Makame Mussa (49), company manager Omar Hassan Mkoje (50), and owner Said Abdulrahman Juma (46) were charged by Zanzibar’s High Court with manslaughter.  The Tanzanian minister of marine transportation has also resigned his post.

Capsized off Zanzibar

July 18, 2012  5:00pm  U.S. Pacific Time

The m.v. SKAGIT, a former Washington State Ferry, has capsized and reportedly sunk off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa while en route to the island of Zanzibar.  News reports are still coming in, but as this is written 31 people have been confirmed dead with dozens more still missing.  There were approximately 281 passengers and six crew aboard at the time of the accident.   Zanzibar Police Commissioner Mussa Ali Mussa said 145 people had been rescued.  Among the passengers were 250 adults including 14 foreigners and 31 children.

MV SKAGIT off Seattle in WSF colors, photo © Steven J. Pickens 2004

The ferry left Dar es Salaam at noon (0900 GMT) for what normally would be a four hour trip to Zanzibar’s largest island, also known as Unguja Island.  The small ship ran into high winds and heavy seas which caused it to list heavily and ultimately capsize.  Survivors reported that the engines failed as the vessel rolled.  A safety officer with the Zanzibar Port Corporation was quoted as saying the ferry was “Bottom Up” but it was unclear whether that meant it had capsized or sank.  The accident occurred near Chumbe Coral Park,  a little over six miles (10 km) from Unguja.  In September, 2011, approximately 200 people were killed when the overloaded ferry SPICE ISLANDER 1 (ex MARIANNA, APOSTOLOS P, SPICE ISLANDE 1) with 800 people aboard sank off the northern coast of Zanzibar.

MV KALAMA in Tanzania

The m.v. SKAGIT was designed to carry a maximum of 230 passengers.  The passenger-only ferry and a sister, the KALAMA were constructed in 1989 at Halter Marine in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The original design of the boats was based on vessels that serviced off-shore oil rigs in the Gulf Of Mexico.  An extra deck of superstructure was added to accommodate additional passengers.  The boxy design of the cabin decks and the low twin funnels on either side gave the ferries a rather ungainly appearance.  The SKAGIT went by the official number: D949140, call sign: WAA6309  and had a length of 112 feet, beam of 25 feet and a draft of  8 feet.   The pair were ordered for service on Puget Sound but were laid up on arrival when there were no funds available to operate them.  With the Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay area, the twins were loaned to that city to ferry passengers while the Bay Bridge was temporarily closed.  After returning north, the 25 knot ferries entered service but met with complaints regarding erosion caused by their large wakes and their propensity to roll in the waves.  They ultimately met with success when the route was transferred between Vashon Island and downtown Seattle.  Washington State Ferries decided to discontinue their passenger-only service after the summer of 2009 with the SKAGIT and KALAMA being declared surplus.  In an interesting move, the state tried unsuccessfully to sell them on eBay.  They were finally sold in 2011 and taken to Tanzania where they operated for the Seagull Company between the mainland and Zanzibar.

Two different leading news agencies have reported the ferry to be the m.v. SKAGIT/KALAMA, although it does appear that it is in fact the SKAGIT that is either “mostly submerged” or fully sunk.





Shawn Dake

Shawn Dake

Shawn J. Dake, freelance travel writer and regular contributor to MaritimeMatters, worked in tourism and cruise industry for over 35 years.  A native of Southern California, his first job was as a tour guide aboard the Queen Mary.  A frequent lecturer on ship-related topics he has appeared on TV programs.  Owner of Oceans Away Cruises & Travel agency, he served as President of the local Chapter of Steamship Historical Society of America.  With a love of the sea, he is a veteran of 115 cruises.
Shawn Dake

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