Dozens dead as ferry sinks in north Iraq

MOSUL, Iraq — A ferry packed with families celebrating Kurdish New Year sank in a swollen river in the former militant stronghold of Mosul on Thursday, leaving more than 70 people dead in Iraq’s worst accident in years.

There was an outpouring of grief among residents who only recently resumed festivities on the banks of the Tigris after the northern city’s recapture from Daesh (the so-called IS).

The vessel was packed with men, women and children crossing the Tigris to go to a popular picnic area to celebrate Nowruz, the Kurdish New Year and a holiday day across the country.

While war and militant attacks have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in Iraq in recent years, such accidents are relatively rare.

“It’s a disaster, no one expected that,” said a young man who had just managed to reached the shore.

“There were a lot of people on the boat, especially women and children,” he said.

Seventy-one people died including 19 children, according to interior ministry spokesman Saad Maan, while 55 people were rescued.

“The boat sank because there were too many passengers on board, more than a hundred,” another security official based in Mosul said.

The health ministry said earlier that 33 women were among those killed.

The authorities had warned people to be careful after several days of heavy rains led to water being released through the Mosul dam, causing the river level to rise.

Videos shared on social media showed a fast-flowing, bloated river and dozens of people in the water around the partly submerged boat.

Search operations were continuing hundreds of meters downstream from the site where the boat sank, according to an AFP journalist.

Hundreds of people who had flocked to the forested area for the first days of spring gathered on the riverbanks as the disaster unfolded.

Ambulances and police vehicles transported the dead and wounded to hospitals in the city of nearly two million people.

Photos of victims, many of them women and children, were posted on the walls of a morgue for families unable to enter because of the large crowd outside to identify their relatives.

Daesh turned Mosul into their de-facto Iraqi capital after the militants swept across much of the country’s north.

The city spent three years under the group’s iron-fisted rule until it was recaptured by Iraqi troops backed by a US-led coalition in 2017.

Previously Iraq’s last major boat disaster was in March 2013 when a floating restaurant sank in Baghdad, killing five people.

Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi put health services on alert and instructed all available teams to mobilize to find survivors after Thursday’s accident.

He ordered a swift investigation “to determine responsibilities”.

Former Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi called for a period of national mourning.

Several political leaders denounced the lack of safety at dilapidated leisure facilities in a country where the dismal state of public services was one of the triggers for widespread protests last year. — AFP