Since the boat sank late at night, rescue efforts could only begin in earnest after sunrise.
More than 200 people have drowned after a ferry sank Saturday off the coast of Tanzania, an official from the country’s Red Cross National Society said.
Many more are still missing, as the vessel had a capacity of 650 passengers, and may have been overloaded. Some 325 people have been rescued, including 60 children.
Several dozen more survivors are severely injured.
It remained unclear what had caused the ship to sink shortly after midnight, as the vessel, MV Spice Islanders, made its way from the main island of Unguja to the island of Pemba in the Zanzibar archipelago.
“The dead are mostly women and children,” said Joseph Kimaryo, Disaster Management Director at the Tanzania Red Cross National Society. The corpses were either pulled from the sea or washed up onshore.
Speaking with the German Press Agency dpa by telephone, Mr. Kimaryo said strong currents were making rescue and recovery efforts difficult.
The ship sank close to the coast of Pemba Island and the Red Cross deployed teams to the coasts to collect bodies as they washed up.
Families began to gather as the news emerged to learn about the fate of their loved ones and to identify bodies. The government has set up a rescue centre.
“We found the survivors holding onto mattresses and fridges and anything that could float,” helicopter pilot Captain Neels van Eijk told the BBC World Service radio. He flew over the area where the ship sank as part of the rescue efforts.
Witnesses and official said that since the boat sank in the middle of the night, rescue efforts could only begin in earnest after sunrise.
According to emergency officials, a lack of equipment and resources were also hampering rescue efforts, and calls were made to neighbouring countries along the Indian Ocean coastline for assistance.
Government officials used other ferries, fishing boats and navy vessels to help the rescue efforts, asking ordinary citizens and private companies for assistance. Even tourist water—skiing boats were used to save lives.