The otherwise quiet town of Apam was Tuesday throw into a sombre mood as hundreds of people, both young and old, put on black and red attire to mourn with the bereaved families of the 13 children who drowned in the sea in the town.
So far, 13 dead bodies have been retrieved, with only two survivors - Godfred Apratse, 14, and Simon Dadzie, 15.
The 13th body, which was retrieved last Friday, was buried on the same day, after some traditional rituals had been performed, due to the decomposed state of the body.
The deceased have been identified as Isaac Effisah,16; Ebenezer Forson,15; Kingbert Addison,14; Gilbert Essadoh, 15; Sarah Mensah, 15; Prince Peprah, 13; Benjamin Narh, 15, and Christopher Ewusi, 15.
The rest are Kwesi Saarah Paintsil, 17; Eric Kwaku Arthur and John Arthur, both 14, and Joshua Hammond, 17.
The body of a female teenager, who has been identified as Faustina Moro, is still in the morgue because her family members have not shown up yet.
Apam is a fishing community and no fishing is allowed on Tuesday, so many residents, as well as others from adjoining communities, thronged the premises of the St Luke Catholic Hospital, Apam, to mourn the departed children.
The entire town came to a standstill, as many residents abandoned their economic activities to mourn the departed children.
The entrance of the hospital was turned into a carnival, as the mourners recited dirges and sang songs in groups in their bid to pay their last respects to the teenagers.
However, as the coffins bearing the remains of the victims were brought out one after another, the atmosphere became heavy with sadness and many people who could no longer hold back their emotions broke into uncontrollable tears.
Since the burial service was held strictly by invitation on the premises of the hospital, many residents who did not have access to the place converged on the frontage of the hospital to be part of the emotional ceremony.
Others also lined up along the street to wave and wail as the hearses transporting the bodies to the cemetery passed by.
Although yesterday was a schoolday, many schoolchildren in public and private basic schools abandoned school to mourn with their mates.
Some of them were spotted in their school uniforms to pay their last respects to their departed mates.
It was a heart-breaking moment when the names of the departed teenagers were called out and then cancelled from their respective school registers as part of the rituals signalling that they were no longer students of those schools.
There was a government delegation to the burial ceremony.
Delivering the sermon, Rev. Fr Derek Felix Kwesi Acquah, the Chaplain of the St Luke Catholic Hospital, urged the bereaved families to remain strong in these difficult times of dealing with the loss of their beloved family members.
He called on Christians to be prepared at all times, as the Almighty God could call them at any time, as had happened in the case of the teenagers, adding: “I urge everyone to be ready at all times to respond to the ultimate call of God.”
He used the occasion to also pray for the bereaved families and the entire youth of the community.
The solemn ceremony was attended by the Minister of Transport, Mr Kwaku Ofori Asiamah; the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, Ms Mavis Hawa Koomson, and the Central Regional Minister, Mrs Justina Marigold Assan.
Mrs Koomson, on behalf of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, presented GH¢10,000 to each bereaved family and the two survivors.
An amount of GH₵10,000 was presented to the chiefs and the elders of the community.
The MP for the area, Mr Richard Gyan-Mensah, who was at the ceremony, also presented GH₵500 to each bereaved family and the survivors.
Other dignitaries who were at the burial service were the District Chief Executive for the area, Mr Bismark Baisie Nkum, and the Central Regional Chairman of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), Mr Robert Kutin Jnr.
The MP for Ekumfi, Mr Abeku Crentsil; former MPs for Gomoa East and West, Mr Kojo Asemanyi and Mr Alexander Kojo Kom Abban, respectively, as well as some district chief executives, were also in attendance.
Time to bury differences
Mr Gyan-Mensah expressed the hope that the tragedy would bring both the families and the people of the town together to forge ahead towards the growth and development of the area, saying: “This is the time for us to bury our differences as a people and come together to champion the growth of the area.”
He particularly thanked President Akufo-Addo, former President John Mahama and other individuals who came to offer support to the community and the bereaved families when the incident happened.
He also commended the youth of the town and other adjoining communities who volunteered to be part of the team that rescued the survivors and retrieved the dead bodies.
The Queenmother of Apam, Nana Assel Botwe III, chided sections of the media that twisted facts about the incident which had brought the image and reputation of the town into disrepute.
The Central Regional Minister, Mrs Assan, expressed worry that teenagers who are the nation's future had had to lose their lives through a tragic incident and urged the people to ensure that such a tragedy did not recur.
She disclosed that the Regional Coordinating Council, in conjunction with assemblies along the coastal belt, would train guards in all coastal communities who would help protect beaches and prevent such tragedies from occurring.
“I wish to call on the police to intensify patrols at the beaches to ensure that residents adhere to the ban on activities at the beaches,” she added.
The Regional Minister called for counselling for the survivors to calm them down and enable them to come to terms with the situation, as well as enable them to deal with the likely psychological impact and go about their normal duties.
Mrs Koomson entreated parents to always monitor the activities and movements of their children to track their whereabouts, noting: “As responsible parents, it is incumbent on us to always know where our children are to protect them from tragedy.”
She advised the youth to learn useful lessons from the incident and desist from acts that had the tendency to end in tragedy.