At Least 50 Dead After Boat Capsizes In Congo River

Around 100 bodies have been dead or are still missing from the sinking of a makeshift vessel in the Congo River, provincial authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo said Saturday. 51 bodies were recovered by late Friday and another 70 are missing, Nestor Magbado, a spokesman for the governor of the northwestern province of Mongala, has told.

As of right now, Mongala’s provincial minister of transport and communications José Misiso has confirmed that at least 61 bodies were found.

The sinking happened during the night of Monday to Tuesday, and there were around 40 survivors, says Magbado. Since authorities do not know exactly how many passengers were on board, the number missing is an estimate based on the capacity of the boat, Magbado added. It is reported that the vessel was nine traditional wooden pirogues tied together.

Magbado has explained that the accident may have been caused by “overcrowding aggravated by bad weather” during the night and that victims include hawkers and students travelling to the provincial capital Bumba.

Boat accidents are common because boats are often overloaded with passengers and cargo. Most of the passengers travelling on vessels do not usually wear life jackets.

The vast country in central Africa, covering an area of 2.3 million square kilometres has very few passable roads and trips are often made on the Congo River and its tributaries as well as on the eastern lakes, Kivu and Tanganyika in particular. 

This year, there have been some major sinking of boats. In January, at least three people, two children and one woman drowned after a passenger boat sank in Lake Kivu. In February, at least 60 people died after a vessel carrying 700 passengers capsized on the Congo River near the village of Longola Ekoti, in Mai-Ndombe province. In July 2010, more than 135 people died after a boat capsized in the western province of Bandundu.

Search and rescue operations are continuing but hopes of finding more survivors are fading. Provincial authorities have declared three days of mourning from Monday.

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