At least 50 dead in DRC shipwreck

2011-07-29 20:02

Kinshasa - At least 50 people drowned and some 35 are reported missing after a boat accident on a river in the northwest of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Equateur province government said on Friday.

The vessel, which was wrecked late on Wednesday, was carrying at least 200 passengers and "up to yesterday [Thursday] we counted 115 survivors and 50 bodies fished from the water with difficulty", the government spokesperson told AFP. "The others are certainly lost or were dragged down by the water."

The large motorised barge, which was also carrying goods, collided during the night with another boat, which was empty, on the Tshuapa river, 115km east of the provincial capital Mbandaka, spokesperson Rebecca Ebale Nguma said.

"The boat's manifesto indicated that 200 people were on board, but some of the survivors say there were about 350 people," Nguma added.

Overloading boats is a common practice in the DRC, and is also one of the main causes of the many shipwrecks in the vast central African country, which is studded with lakes and rivers. The mighty Congo river itself is one of the main transport routes.

Accidents are also caused by the bad or absent signposting of waterways, the inexperience of pilots and the lack of lights on boats. Many vessels carry no lifebelts or lifejackets.

After a spate of accidents on waterways at the end of April and early in May, transport minister Marie-Laure Kawanda was sacked from her post.