Boat Sinks In Iraq, Killing Dozens During New Year Celebration

The accident Thursday occurred in the Tigris in Nineveh province

The families were celebrating the Kurdish and Iranian festival of Newroz, the traditional new year or spring festival.

Police and medical sources said earlier at least 40 people had drowned.

Twelve people have been rescued so far and teams are still working to pull survivors out of the water, Husam Khalil, head of Mosul's Civil Defence Authority told Reuters.

A spokesman for the Iraqi health ministry said that at least 55 people were believed to have died, including 33 women, 12 children and ten men.

The water level on the Tigris was high because of a rainy season that brought more precipitation than in previous years. He added that most of the casualties were women and children who could not swim.

Reconstruction of Mosul, much of which was destroyed in a military campaign to recapture the city from Islamic State militants in 2017, has barely begun and is haphazard. He said the ferry sank because of a technical problem, and that there weren't many boats in the area to rescue people. The overcrowded ferry exceeded the permitted capacity by two times and most of the passengers on board could not swim, reported BBC.

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Saudi Aziz, a 23-year-old Kurd, said he was on another ferry crossing the river. "It can normally carry 50 people".

"I can not describe the scene, it's a catastrophe", he said.

The TV said nine workers operating the ferry have been detained and an arrest warrant is out for the owner of the tourist island where it was headed.

Nowruz, or the Persian new year, dates back to 1700 B.C. and incorporates Zoroastrian traditions.

A local information source called Mosul Eye tweeted an appeal for people to go down to the river and help with the rescue operation.

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