At least 14 people are feared drowned after two overcrowded, rickety boats sank in the River Congo, the interior minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) told AFP Wednesday, though local sources fear the toll could be much higher.
“Fourteen missing, 108 survived,” the DRC’s interior minister, Henri Mova, said in an email, after the two vessels sank in the river in the southwestern province of Mai-Ndombe.
Local official Didace Pembe said many more people may have died.
The crowded vessels were sailing at night, and they were suddenly hit by strong winds. Many more went missing in this accident than those who survived.
“The crowded vessels were sailing at night, and they were suddenly hit by strong winds. Many more went missing in this accident than those who survived,” Pembe said.
Local fisherman Leon Bateko told AFP by phone that weather conditions on the powerful river “were extremely bad”, hampering the rescue efforts.
“The truth about the toll will never been known because there are no lists that can tell us how many people were actually on board,” Claude Bononge, who manages several privately-owned ports in DR Congo, told AFP.
Makeshift boats are forbidden from sailing at night on Congolese waters.
“How were they able to sidestep the ban?” Bononge asked.
Boat accidents occur frequently in DR Congo, both in the vast country’s lakes and on its rivers. Waterways are a substitute for travelling by road — the country has few highways, and they are often poorly maintained.
The number of victims can be high because boats can be overcrowded and lack life jackets, and passengers routinely do not know how to swim.