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Boat Tragedy: President Koroma visits Shenge

15 September 2009 at 02:55 | 895 views

By Sheka Tarawalie, Freetown.

President Ernest Bai Koroma, after declaring Monday 14th September 2009 as a day of national mourning for the lives lost during the recent boat tragedy, made a practical move by leading a high-powered delegation to the sea-side village of Shenge in Moyamba District, one of the points from where the boat was heading for the western area rural village of Tombo.

Arriving via UN helicopter, the President was received by the District Council Chairman of Moyamba, David Woobay, and the Deputy Commissioner of the National Commission for Social Action (NACSA), Charles Rogers, a native of the area.

Speaking at the well-attended ceremony at the Shenge Community Centre, President Koroma said, “We are here today as President of this country, as members of the government of this country, as institutions and agencies of this country, and we are here to represent the entire Sierra Leonean population to express our sympathy for this great disaster that has met the bereaved families, the members of Kagboro chiefdom, and Moyamba District. This is a very very sad moment for all of us in this country, particularly members of the families affected… This is why I took it upon myself to come in person.”

In a very pious note, while noting that it could be the biggest sea disaster to occur in this country in living memory, the President enjoined all to pray for mercies on the souls of the departed, while thanking God for being gracious in sustaining the lives of the survivors. He said even though he was there to sympathise, he was at the same time taking the opportunity to thank those who left everything to engage in rescue operations, and for forming a local committee to that effect.

“As President, the life of every Sierra Leonean, of any Sierra Leonean, is important to me… that is why we responded quickly in putting in motion operations coordinated by the Office of National Security, NACSA, and international agencies.” He therefore thanked all those that have participated in the exercise of rescuing and taking care of the rescued.

In the circumstances, though it was a sad moment, the Head of State said it was also a moment to look inwards as a government, as a people, and ask questions. “We should look again and confront the situation and try to address it. What caused the accident? Why did the accident take place? Why did we not respond quickly? Why similar accidents have been happening… This is a wake-up call for us all to ensure that this does not happen again.”

The President said Sierra Leoneans have to accept that sea transportation is part of our every day lives, but that it has to be developed to acceptable standards to avoid loss of lives, so that boat operators adhere to these standards: “We have to enforce laws to make it mandatory for people to carry life jackets; we should ensure that maritime bodies responsible for regulating water transportation get the necessary legislation giving them the full authority to enforce the law.”

President Koroma said there are so many lessons to learn from this, and rise to the occasion. “We cannot leave the lives of our compatriots in reckless hands…We should ensure that the lives of Sierra Leoneans are not wasted in this manner any more…It is a loss to our country, a loss to our economy, and a loss to the future of this country. And now we should resolve not to allow it to happen again. And for this not to happen again, we must take hard decisions; for it not to happen again, we should comply with the laws passed; for it not to happen again, the people responsible for regulating sea transportation should do it in a manner that they will not compromise their offices – the maritime officials, the harbour masters, those supervising the construction of these boats, and the police should not compromise, because when you compromise for a small amount of money, you would not know the number of lives that could be lost for that…”

The President said government is now looking at the weaknesses of the whole system and come up with very effective and efficient laws that will be quickly put in place.
“Personally, this loss affected me greatly. It is a big loss for us all. But I enjoin you not to mourn like people without hope. Let’s use the opportunity to rally round and hold on to the hope that will sustain us, using this as a moment to commit ourselves in preventing any such disaster again.”

Other speakers included District Council Chairman David Woobay who welcomed the President and entourage and chaired the occasion, NAACSA Deputy Commissioner Charles Rogers who gave an update of government’s efforts thus far, Transport and Aviation Minister Allieu Pat-Sowe who promised to do more in continuing the search, Office of National Security’s Larry Bassie who explained how his office coordinated with other security/maritime agencies to intervene in the situation but regretted knowing about it late, APC Secretary General Victor Bockarie Foh who said it was a national and not a party disaster, and a student survivor who narrated the ordeal they went through for over eight grueling hours before they were rescued.

Other members of the presidential delegation included Minister of Information & Communications I.B. Kargbo, Minister of Defence Paolo Conteh, and Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Ibrahim H. Kalokoh.

Twelve of the survivors, ten male and two female, were present at the ceremony.

Photo: President Koroma, right, on an earlier visit to the Shenge area. State House file photo.

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