This non-fiction narrative recounts one of the worst maritime disasters in history, the sinking of Le Joola – which tore at the soul of a country. Patrick Wiley’s interviews with survivors and extensive in-country research revealed the shameful loss of life and incredible accounts of survival that form the heart of the book.
“The Sinking of the MV Le Joola” –
Non-Fiction Narrative on one of the worst Maritime Accidents in History, the sinking of the West African, Senegal ferry MV Le Joola.
by Pat Wiley
PUBLISHED: SELF-PUBLISHED BY AUTHOR
Available in print and ebook format.
At eleven o’clock, the Joola was seventeen miles off the African coast—eight hours away from her scheduled arrival in Dakar. The rain had stopped but she was still in the grip of the squall. Lightning flashes illuminated an angry sea in the black void surrounding the ship. Wind and waves were lashing into the starboard beam as it steamed through the night with the conspicuous list to the port side. Minutes before, the hard rain had driven most of the passengers from the upper deck. A few small groups remained—some enjoying the spectacle of the storm, others preferring the cool air to the sweltering conditions inside. Many were still jammed in the stairwell—trying to get down into the crowded restaurant. Big seas were now aggravating the list and the Joola began rolling farther to her port side. Still, most thought it wasn’t excessive—at least not to the extent to trigger alarm. There was no indication of passengers becoming frightened. The singing and dancing continued in the restaurant—packed with students and partying passengers for whom the night was still young.
Down below in the third-class compartments, passengers were far more insulated from what was happening outside. Their primary concern was trying to get comfortable in their overcrowded quarters and dealing with the stifling heat. Most eyes were glued to the television, unaware of any deteriorating conditions affecting the Joola.
After the rain stopped, strong gusts from the squall continued to howl through the superstructure. Six to nine foot white-capped waves were charging across the sea. Ben Bechir Badji and others on the top deck could see them rolling into and underneath the ship. The Joola’s radar, if it were operating, would have allowed the crew to track the approaching storm and the pilothouse provided a good view of the worsening weather conditions, but there was nothing about the seas and wind to cause alarm—unless the crew was aware the Joola’s stability had been seriously compromised.
Squalls were common this time of year—the crew had been through them before. This time, however, everything was adding up wrong. The boat listing to port was testimony to the fact that something was out of order with either cargo loading or ballast. Having only one engine running further compounded the problem, and limited the crew’s options to respond to an emergency. The crew should have noticed that the seas were coming on the starboard side and aggravating the list. But what happened next, at 11pm, was so unexpected; it was a shock to both passengers and crew.
The Joola, suddenly, began listing further and further onto her side. There was no warning from the crew…no one saw, heard, or felt anything…other than the terrifying sensation of the deck slipping out from under them. At first, when passengers felt the steep incline of the deck, they thought it was a rolling motion from the waves—praying the ship would roll back. Passengers near the cargo deck heard the rumble of vehicles sliding and crashing onto the port bulkheads. The Joola continued to heel…higher and higher…exposing her flat bottom hull to the surging waves.