Saturday, July 26, 2008
A boat tragedy on a river in a remote part of Congo ended in the drowning of at least 45 passengers, while more than 70 others remain unaccounted for, officials said today. A barge carrying 182 passengers from the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic sank early on Wednesday after hitting a rock on the Oubangui river in northern Congo. “Forty-five bodies have been recovered,” district commissioner Mathieu Bella said. Sixty people managed to escape and “we have no news on 77 passengers”, he said, adding that some of those missing may have made their way home without alerting the authorities. At the time of the accident, the barge was on its way to the capital of the Central African Republic Bangui, having filled up with passengers, sacks of maize and barrels of oil in the Congolese town of Mobayi-Mbongo, he said.It sank near Gbongi, in Bosobolo territory, more than 600 km north-east of Mbandaka, the capital of northern Equateur region. Boats frequently sink in Congo's network of lakes and rivers, often because they are overloaded with passengers. But the country's waterways are also poorly surveyed, increasing the risk of accidents. Most vessels do not comply with the basic safety requirements, lacking proper navigation equipment, lights and safety items such as life jackets. Mr Bella said the barge that sank on the Oubangui had the right to travel at night, but added: “The old markers no longer exist and the ones that have been replaced – namely barrels – have been stolen.” The barge belonged to an unnamed owner from the Central African Republic. Dozens of people died when a boat carrying an unknown number of people sank in Lake Tanganyika in May, while 17 people died and dozens more were reported missing in a similar accident in January.