KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — A boat capsized in Congo’s northwest killing at least 27 people, and more than 70 others were missing, a senior government official said Saturday as rescuers searched frantically for survivors.
The locally made boat capsized late Friday in the city of Mbandaka in Equateur Province as it transported more than 100 passengers along the Congo River to the town of Bolomba, according to Taylor Nganzi, deputy provincial governor.
“Already 27 bodies of victims have been removed from the waters (and) transported to the morgue of the general hospital in Mbandaka,” said Nganzi, adding that an investigation to find out the cause of the accident had begun.
The New Civil Society of Congo, a local civil society group, said 49 people died in the accident, which it said occurred after an engine failure. “Everything started to sink,” Jean-Pierre Wangela, president of the group, told reporters.
The contradictory death tolls, which is common in such incidents in Congo, could not immediately be reconciled.
Volunteers joined rescuers in the search for survivors and for bodies, while families mourned loved ones who were among the victims.
“We are supervising the search for bodies with the river services and accompanied by the victims’ families,” said Nganzi.
Boat accidents are common on the Congo River and on the nation’s lakes because of the prevalent use of makeshift boats that are often overloaded. The majority of the population in the country’s northwest use the rivers to travel because of a lack of good roads and because it is a less expensive.
The Congolese government had banned night travel throughout the country to avoid accidents, although many defy the directive.