The Diamond Airlines hovercraft was gutted by fire in the early hours of yesterday morning while returning to dock at Aberdeen with just-arrived passengers from the Freetown International Airport at Lungi.
At the scene which was crowded with police personnel and Aberdeen beach boys, the minister of Transport and Aviation, Ibrahim Kemoh Sesay explained that around 4am yesterday he was called and informed by the Mayor of Freetown, Winstanley Bankole Johnston, that there was a crisis with the hovercraft.
The minister explained that the hovercraft was still at sea when he arrived limping at Aberdeen.
“I took a speed boat and went to where the hovercraft was only to find out that it was sinking,” he said.
The minister explained that, “with the intervention of the youths around, we were able to save the lives of the passengers on board the craft by transporting them ashore on boats”.
Explaining the cause of the fire, he said, “according to the passengers and crew the fire was as a result of fuel crisis. I was informed that the hovercraft ran out of fuel and small boats were dispatched ashore to get fuel to refill it.”
The fuel was then offloaded with buckets to refill the hovercraft’s tank and “during that process something ignited the fuel which set the hovercraft ablaze,” he said.
The minister also disclosed that he was also informed by the hovercraft’s engineers that the hovercraft was running with three engines instead of four, adding that “as a result of this technical hitch, it was consuming more fuel than it was supposed to.”
The issue at hand now, the minister said, “is to get the craft ashore so that we would be able to retrieve the luggage of the passengers that are in the craft for them to identify their tagged baggage.”
He explained that he had sent for a tug machine to tow the craft ashore and also solicited the assistance of IMATT maritime engineering division to help bring the hovercraft ashore.
“I have instructed the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) detectives to take over, and I have also instructed the police to take action with immediate effect, as investigations are ongoing,” the minister stated. The deputy minister of Information, Mohamed D. Koroma who was also at the scene, said as far he was concerned the accident was due to “negligence” on the part of the hovercraft owners.
He explained that those operating the vessel should have known that the fuel would not be enough for the hovercraft’s journey, adding that they should have put the necessary mechanisms in place to ensure that the situation did not degenerate into that stage. Reports said the children of President Ernest Bai Koroma who are coming to witness their father’s inauguration were also among the distraught passengers.