Almost 30 die in Senegal and Gambia boat accidents
AFP, , Tuesday 25 Apr 2017

Almost 30 people have died in two boat accidents in Senegal and The Gambia, neighbouring west African nations with poor maritime safety records.

Twenty-one people, most of them women, were killed on Monday night when a traditional flat-bottomed boat overturned off Bettenty, a central Senegal island area, with 72 on board, said Commander Oumar Kane, a senior Senegalese firefighting official.

All except two present were women, and another 51 people had been rescued, he added.

Bettenty lies in the Saloum delta where such boats, known as pirogues, are often used for travelling between the mangroves and from one islet to another.

The boat capsized as the women were on their way to look for seafood, and the incident occurred in a coastal area well known for delicacies like oysters, where tourists flock in large numbers.

The second incident took place on Monday night in the River Gambia, the waterway which splices tiny Gambia almost into two, said police spokesman Foday Conta in Banjul.

"Eight fishermen died yesterday night after their boat capsized," he told AFP.

"Their boat capsized in the river between the villages of Diabugu and Tabajang in the Upper River Region of the country. They were on board a fishing canoe," Conta added.

The Gambia is a sliver of a nation that sits entirely surrounded by its larger neighbour, Senegal.

Reporting on the incident in Senegal, L'Observateur daily said the boat had capsized in high winds, while other newspapers said it had foundered because it was overloaded. Senegalese radio station RFM said some of the women were pregnant.

Meanwhile Senegal's official APS news agency reported that Fisheries Minister Oumar Gueye was en route to the site of the tragedy to present the government's condolences.

Several Senegalese papers recalled the Joola tragedy of 2002 when a ferry sank during a storm, killing more than 1,800 people in what was one of the world's worst-ever maritime disasters.

In that incident, the ferry was licensed to hold just 580 people, including crew, but investigators found it was carrying well over 2,000 when it went down while passing the Gambian coast.
Only 64 people were rescued.

Boat accidents in both nations are often deadly as fishermen and ordinary citizens use canoes or makeshift boats to travel but often lack lifejackets, while many cannot swim.