French judge issues warrants over Senegal ferry disaster: lawyer

PARIS (AFP) — A French judge issued international arrest warrants Friday for nine Senegalese officials over the 2002 sinking of the Joola ferry, Africa's worst maritime disaster, a lawyer for the French victims said.

The officials targeted over the accident, which left 1,863 people dead including 22 French nationals, include Senegalese former prime minister Mame Madior Boye, a French judicial official confirmed.

"All I have to say is bravo to the French justice," Idrissa Diallo, head of the victims' families association, said in Dakar, noting a Senegalese appeals prosecutor had closed the case in 2003.

"All we want is that light is shed and that nobody is above the law," he added.

Meanwhile, Senegal's Justice Minister Madicke Niang said that Senegal would use all means possible to have the warrants cancelled adding that those targeted had "no penal responsibility."

The ferry Joola capsized in stormy seas off Gambia on September 26, 2002 while sailing between the southern Senegalese territory of Casamance and the capital Dakar.

Licensed to carry 550 people, it had 1,927 passengers on board when it sank.

Only 64 people survived the accident which claimed more lives than the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, in which 1,563 died.

Among those on board were students, school children and artists from around Senegal as well as nationals from elsewhere in Africa and Europe.