Gabon: 21 people charged over capsized ferry that killed dozens

Twenty-one people have been charged with manslaughter in the investigation into the sinking of a mini-ferry that killed 30 people and left seven missing a month ago in Gabon, the Libreville public prosecutor announced Saturday.

On March 9, the Esther Miracle, which linked the capital to the oil port of Port-Gentil, capsized in the middle of the night and only 124 people out of the 161 officially recorded occupants were rescued.

The government of this small Central African country was quick to point to possible serious errors concerning the navigation permits issued for this mixed passenger and freight vessel belonging to the private company Royal Cost Marine (RCM). It sank only ten kilometers from the coast. The survivors and the families of the victims also blamed the slownowness of the rescue operation.

Dozens of people were then questioned in police custody as part of the investigation, including officials from the merchant navy, the Ministry of Transport and executives from the RCM.

Of “48 people referred to the prosecutor on 6 and 7 April”, “21 have been charged by an investigating judge with manslaughter, unintentional injury, failure to render assistance, forgery and use of forgeries and endangering the lives of others”, said the prosecutor André Patrick Roponat on Saturday on the public television channel Gabon Première.

“Among them, eight have been placed under a detention warrant and two are being provisionally incarcerated,” he added, without giving any details on the people involved.

The day before, the government had announced the end of the search for the bodies of the missing, almost a month after the tragedy.

“There is too much negligence, compromises, special treatment and small arrangements, the transport sector is particularly concerned, whether maritime, land or rail,” said Prime Minister Alain-Claude Bilie-By-Nze on March 17, promising “administrative sanctions without prejudice to criminal sanctions.

“I also note with regret that the phenomenon of corruption in our administration is becoming worrying,” concluded the head of government, the day after the resignation of the Minister of Transport, Brice Paillat.

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