Gulf of Guinea Ferry Disaster

Another one bites the silt, and there are shocking allegations of overloading. :

A briefer but more competently written account:

I jumped about a foot when I saw the picture, before realizing that the very Norwegian name was on a Cameroonian flagged boat.

Austrheim - Length 46 m Width 11 m. Ample freeboard, that is why she was still drifting in a capsized position.

Overloading seems to be norm, Sailing with these ferries is a dangerous business, also for other reasons.


The search for trapped passengers continues but by the looks of it they donot have any diving or salvage equipment. The local news claims that foul weather is hampering the rescue operation. I cannot detect any foul weather on the pictures, on the contrary a dead calm sea.

The 1971-built ro/pax Austrheim formerly operated in Western Norway for ferry company Norle. She was sold into service in Cameroon in 2012.

Looking at this picture of the ferry Austrheim in Cameroon there have been some additions done, incl. above the original boat deck:

Original as Austrheim in Norway before 2012:

Clearly an improvised extra deck has been added good for some extra load in the highest point of the ferry. The orange lifeboat has been replaced by a inflatable liferaft, maybe also one on the port side?

That guy in the window opening has clearly been inside to retrieve the dead body being dragged up the side. Going inside that wreck to free dive for bodies? Someone has bigger balls than me!

As for overloading by a factor of two, adding decks to do so comfortably, etc, nothing amazes me anymore. This is the sad norm. It’s not that I wouldn’t get on one of those death traps, it’d be just my kind of story to tell, but I’d stay outside for the duration.


The death toll of the capsized Austrheim has risen to 17, the state radio said Wednesday, August 28th, though the total number of victims was still unknown. More than 100 people were rescued when the ship went down. It was said earlier that is believed that a total number of 200 passengers or more were on board.

The Austrheim, described by the local press as a trading vessel converted into a passenger ship, was supposed to carry 75 people, but it was overloaded, according to a statement from the defence ministry. Overloaded is here clearly an euphemism!

The ship left Sunday from Calabar, Nigeria, and was due to dock at Tiko in southwest Cameroon, but hit a sandbar before capsizing. It looks like the capsizing was due to a human error, what it is most of the times. Hitting the sandbar explains the over time remarkable stable position of the wreck, it probably rests on the sea bottom…

According to previous crew members posting on Norwegian forums this was a very stable ferry that could take anything that was thrown at her when trading as Kvitsøy on exposed routes in Rogaland “as long as the ballast tanks were kept full”.

I agree, she radiates power and seaworthiness, under normal load conditions that is, with a very large freeboard, built for bad weather.

I donot know whether she had any cargo in what could have shifted due to hitting the sandbank. Or was it a passenger only ship?

From having seen ferries in West Africa and other places like Indonesia, Bangladesh and Myanmar, it is a mix of pax and their trade goods, as well as paid cargo on board.
It looks like there is a side ramp for vehicles, so there may also have been some cars or trucks on board.
Lashing is not normally a priority, so if she took on a list due to grounding, whatever was carried on her decks would have shifted.


That is as they say the probable cause of the capsize. It could be that she touched with the bottom of the hull the sandbank at the starboard side causing a port list whereupon the cargo shifted to the port side. The list was made worse by the deeper water at the port side, she rolled over until stopped by the sea floor. Something like that.

Picture showing the lifted bow visor.

The Norwegian language Wikipedia page of the Austrheim gives some additional data, see ‘More Information’, such as:

Passengers 240 (!)
Passengers vehicles 21
Draft: 3.24 m
DWT 187

Calculating with an average passenger weight of 100 kg, including luggage and a car weight of 1500 kg the total load is only 55.5 ton so there is enough room left for other cargo. You will need to know the draft when the ship left port to see whether there was an overload. Cargo shifting seems to be the probable cause for the time being, until we know otherwise.

Most likely the original Norwegian certificates, both for Pax, cars and trading limitations, have been changed, or ignored. Probably a lot more Pax and few if any cars carried.
The cargo would have been anything and everything that is traded between West African ports/countries, incl. live animals and fresh produce in wicker baskets. All in sizes that can be carried on board by hand or on the head of females.

How many Pax and how much cargo was carried on this trip is hard to say, but having observed ferries operating in Nigeria (incl. from Calabar) and other places in Africa the limitation is set by what is available, not by any consideration to load line, stability or other mundane considerations.

The bow and stern configuration was originally suited for standard Norwegian ferry wharfs, with ramps on shore, not on the ferry:
The hydraulic lifting system is remotely operated from the ferry. Ticketing is done by the ferry crew on the crossing, or electronically on boarding. There are no shore attendance on the wharf.

Here is a typical call by a shuttle ferry trading across the fjord from Stranda to Liabygda in Sunnmøre:

From the picture of her in Cameroon it looks like she MAY have got a ramp fitted on Port side to drive vehicles on/off when needed. The bow visor would most likely be welded shut, or at least not operational.

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