BFF-57 Dozens dead as ferry sinks in north Iraq

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IRAQ-ACCIDENT LEAD

Dozens dead as ferry sinks in north Iraq

MOSUL, Iraq, March 21, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – A ferry packed with families
celebrating Kurdish New Year sank in a swollen river in the former jihadist
stronghold of Mosul Thursday, leaving more than 70 people dead in Iraq’s
worst accident in years.

The accident sparked an outpouring of grief among residents who only
recently resumed festivities on the banks of the Tigris after the northern
city’s recapture from the Islamic State group.

The vessel was packed with men, women and children crossing the Tigris to
go to a popular picnic area.

“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
told AFP.

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 told AFP.

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.

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

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

IS turned Mosul into their de-facto Iraqi capital after the jihadists 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.

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 mobilise to find survivors after Thursday’s accident.

He ordered an investigation “to determine responsibilities”.

BSS/AFP/FI/2200 hrs