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Senegal ferry disaster toll tops 300

Angry Senegalese wait outside a naval base in Dakar, Senegal Saturday, waiting for word on friends and loved ones.

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start quoteFor the moment the condition of the boat is not suspected.end quote
-- PM Mame Madior Boye

DAKAR, Senegal (CNN) -- Rescue ships swarmed the waters off the Gambian coast early Saturday trying to find survivors a day after a Senegalese ferry sank in a storm with nearly 800 people onboard.

Officials said 104 people survived, but more than 300 bodies had been recovered. Hundreds more remained missing.

Senegalese officials said 10 French nationals, five Spaniards, two Belgians, two Dutch and two Swiss were among those onboard the ferry, which ran into a storm Thursday off the coast of Gambia. But, the officials said, they could not say if any of them had survived.

Officials also said the ferry, which had come to rest upside down, had been righted.

Senegal's prime minister said the accident happened around 11 p.m. (5 p.m. EDT) Thursday as the ship, Le Joola, ran into a storm on its way from Casamance to Dakar.

"The boat underwent a technical inspection September 23, and I want to say, according to the information we have at this time, it was the rain and the wind, natural phenomenon following a storm, and the boat capsized," said Prime Minister Mame Madior Boye. "For the moment, the condition of the boat is not suspected" as a cause of the accident.

The government announced it has sought the aid of the French military, which has a base in Senegal, and has marshaled the efforts of nine government agencies in a search-and-rescue effort coordinated by the country's military.

The ferry had restarted operations only two weeks ago after more than a year during which it had been out of service for repairs. According to a former captain of the ship, the vessel's capacity was 800 passengers.

Senegalese family members wait outside a naval base in Dakar, Senegal, Saturday to hear news of loved ones.

"Concerning the conditions, the circumstances of the accident, it was completely due to bad weather, technical problems cannot be blamed," said frigate captain El H. Habibou Faye.

"The crew of this ship was hand-picked by the national marines. The commander of the ship had extensive experience, 21 years of service, and he also was hand-picked to command this boat. The national marines would not pick just anyone to serve on this ship," he added.

Le Joola was constructed in Germany, and was put to sea in 1990 to replace the old Casamance express ferry. It was 79 meters long and 12 meters wide, had two motors and was equipped with the latest safety equipment.

An investigation is under way to determine what caused the accident, and President Abdoulaye Wade has declared a three-day period of national mourning and prayer.

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