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Gabon ferry sinks, three dead, 25 missing, new report says

Gabon ferry sinks, three dead, 25 missing, new report says
File photo: People carry the body of one of the 30 people who died when their   -  
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A body has been recovered and two more people rescued from the waters, raising the death toll to three and 25 missing in the sinking of a small ferry Thursday off the Gabonese capital Libreville, according to a new government report Friday.

At least one child was killed when the Esther Miracle, a mixed passenger and freight vessel that was sailing from Libreville to the oil port of Port-Gentil, sank in the middle of the night just off the coast. The government's report of the day said that 28 of the 151 people on board, passengers, and crew, were missing.

Since Thursday evening, two shipwrecked people have been found alive and the body of one person has been recovered. At midday on Friday, the Minister of Transport, Brice Constant Paillat, announced on the public television channel Gabon Première that three people had died in the tragedy.

"Twenty-five missing persons continue to be sought and 123 have been rescued, of whom 73 have returned home and 50 are still under observation" in hospitals, said Mr. Paillat, insisting that "search operations are continuing at sea. The minister did not specify in which circumstances two shipwrecked people were rescued since the day before or where the lifeless body was found.

The chances of finding survivors more than thirty hours after the tragedy are diminishing. "If, at nightfall, we have not found anyone it will, unfortunately, consider that there is a strong chance that the missing are dead," had already estimated for AFP Thursday afternoon the prosecutor of the Republic of Libreville, Andre Patrick Roponat.

On the instructions of President Ali Bongo Ondimba, the government is meeting especially Friday morning on the case of this tragic shipwreck, said the presidency to AFP.

Pending the findings of an investigation opened Thursday on the causes of the sinking, the government has suspended overnight travel until at least March 31 for all passenger ships and ordered an "audit of all naval units dedicated to passenger transport" in the country.

The ship, whose construction date is unknown - the private company that owns it, Royal Cost Marine (RCM), did not return calls - and which had been purchased and inaugurated on this route last November, was carrying "134 adult passengers, four children under six years of age, 10 crew members and three defense force officers", according to the government.

The vast majority of the survivors were wearing life jackets among the dozens that AFP saw disembarking in Libreville on Thursday morning from fishermen's pirogues, an army patrol boat, and a large barge belonging to an oil logistics company that was cruising not far from the shipwreck.

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