ZANZIBAR, Tanzania - At least 24 people, including two Europeans, perished and many more remain missing after a ferry capsized off the coast of Zanzibar on Wednesday, government officials said. The vessel, which was officially carrying almost 290 passengers and crew, including more than 30 children, went down in choppy waters near the Indian Ocean archipelago after leaving Tanzania's commercial capital Dar-es-Salaam. "We have so far received 24 bodies, including two Europeans," Zanzibar's transport minister Hamad Masoud Hamad told journalists gathered at the main hospital after the sinking of the MV Kalama. It was the second such ferry disaster in Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania, in less than a year.
"The rescue operations are continuing... 124 people have already been found alive and we hope that others will be saved," Tanzania's Interior Minister Emmanuel Nchimbi said.
Zanzibar is famed both for its white-sand beach resorts and for Stone Town, the old quarter of Zanzibar, which is a UNESCO heritage site, and is a popular tourist desination.
An AFP journalist at the port on the main island of the Indian Ocean archipelago said he had seen 55 survivors, soaking wet, on the quayside. Medical personnel were handing out blankets as the survivors emerged from rescue boats, before being sent to a nearby hospital.
Some unconscious victims were being carried on stretchers.
Saidi Shabaani, an official in the second vice president's office, said the ferry was carrying 251 adults, 31 children and six crew, according to the passenger list, when the accident occurred at around 0930 GMT.
Ferries in the region very often carry additional passengers who do not feature on the official manifest.
The families of the dead and missing were milling around on the waterfront wailing, the AFP reporter said. Crowds were trying to surge past police barricades to get closer to the water.
"This is another tragedy we are investigating. A rescue team from the police and navy have rushed to the scene," Shaabani told AFP.
"We are asking for peace and calm among Zanzibaris and ask them to have faith that the government is doing all it can in these times," Zanzibar's Vice President Seif Ali Idd told journalists on the quayside.
Tanzanian state television reported that the ferry, which was also carrying cargo, had sunk completely.
According to a statement from Tanzania's Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority (SUMATRA) the MV Kalama left Dar es Salaam around midday and issued an alert signal after reaching waters off Chumbe Island.
An employee at the eco lodge on Chumbe, however, said the vessel appeared to have actually capsized off another small island close by, Kwale and that rescue teams had sailed past Chumbe.
More than 200 people perished in September when the ferry Spice Islander capsized while sailing between two of the three main islands that make up Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania, in one of the worst maritime disasters in Africa in the past decade.
The September disaster is believed to have been caused by overloading, with some angry survivors accusing port and ferry officials of having ignored the protests of passengers that the boat was overcrowded.