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Nigeria: Search and rescue mission for passengers in Niger river

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A search and rescue operation is underway in northwest Nigeria after an overloaded boat ferrying around 180 passengers to a market in Malele Borgu local government area sank Wednesday in the Niger River.

The boat was travelling between central Niger state and Wara in northwest Kebbi state when it sank, National Inland Waterways Authority local manager Yusuf Birma told reporters.

Over 150 people were feared drowned and at least 20 others have been rescued alive. Authorities are yet to communicate the exact number of casualties.

A rescued survivor Garba Ali Musa gives a brief account of the current situation.

"Nobody tells you how many people lost their lives, but we are still counting. They have brought 44 people to be buried. The rest are still in the water."

"The boat capacity was not up to the 180 passengers it carried," Birma said.

"As we speak, only 20 people have been rescued alive, four dead confirmed while the remaining 156 people are still missing and they are believed to be underwater."

Khadija Muhammed, another survivor of the accident is very grateful to be alive.

"All I can say is all glory to Allah for preserving my life. I was saved by good people. May God Almighty reward them abundantly."

Local district administrator Abdullahi Buhari Wara earlier blamed the accident on overloading as the boat was meant to ferry no more than 80 passengers.

The vessel was also loaded with bags of sand from a gold mine, he said.

Mainly due to poor weather, overcrowding and lack of maintenance, boat accidents are not uncommon on Nigerian waterways.

Wednesday's is however sees one of the highest tolls in recent times.

Ali Ibrahim Garba, one of the rescue agents undertaking the operation has not lost steam.

"We will try to continue with our rescue mission and see. We saved as many as we can and right now we are in search of three persons, one male and two other females. We will make sure that those we saved will be taken to the nearby hospital for further medical assistance."

President Muhammadu Buhari said the accident was "devastating" and offered his condolences to families.

Early this month 30 people drowned when an overloaded boat capsized in Niger state.

The boat ferrying 100 local traders split into two after hitting a stump during a storm as they were returning from a local market, according to emergency officials.

Running in a crescent through Guinea to Nigeria's Niger Delta, the Niger is a key local trade route in some countries as the main river in West Africa.

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