Senegalese mark 10 years since their "Titanic"

By the Associated Press | September 26, 2012 | 7:35 PM EDT

Young relatives of people killed in the 2002 Joola ferry disaster pray as they visit a cemetery containing 140 unmarked graves of victims, in Mbao, outside Dakar, Senegal, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012, the tenth anniversary of the ferry's sinking. With an official death toll of 1,863 and only 64 survivors, the Joola disaster remains one of the deadliest in maritime history, surpassing by a large margin the death toll of roughly 1500 in the 1912 sinking of the Titanic. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Ten years after one of the worst maritime disasters in history, a handful of survivors gathered in Senegal on Wednesday to pay homage to the victims of the Joola, a Senegalese ferry that sank off the coast of Gambia, killing 1,863 people.

That's 361 more than were killed when the Titanic went down nine decades earlier, claiming 1,502 lives. The MV Le Joola took off on Sept. 26, 2002 from Ziguinchor, the capital of Senegal's southernmost province. The government-owned ferry was carrying several times the maximum recommended number of passengers, and survivors say it was already listing from the excess weight when it ran into a storm.

Survivors wept at the graves Wednesday, most of which are unmarked in the Dakar cemetery that was created for the disaster. The bodies were so decomposed that most could not be identified and one relative of the dead went from headstone to headstone, placing his hand on the white marker, as if to find his loved one.

Among the 64 who made it out alive was Victor Djiba, a soldier who was assigned to work on the boat. He got out only because he knew the layout of the ferry. But his friend, with whom he was sharing a cabin, perished.

"Since 2002, I have to use sleeping pills to be able to fall asleep. And even with the pills, I still don't manage to fall asleep until 2 a.m.," said Djiba, who attended an interfaith ceremony held at the cemetery on Wednesday. "When the boat started to sink, I was in a cabin with my colleague. I feel responsible for his death," he said.