Death toll in DR Congo boat disaster rises to 32

AFP , Monday 27 May 2019

The death toll from a boat disaster in western DR Congo at the weekend rose to 32, while scores more are feared drowned, a local official said Monday.

The vessel capsized in choppy conditions on Lake Mai-Ndombe on Saturday, in the latest in a string of deadly accidents in Congolese waters.

"There are 32 dead, 183 survivors," Simon Mbo Wemba, mayor of the lakeside town of Inongo, told AFP.

"The manifest given to the authorities states there were 113 passengers. But survivors say there were between 350 and 400 people on board," he said.

The boat "was decrepit and unfit" for transport, the mayor said, adding that its owner had been arrested.

Lakes and rivers are widely used in the Democratic Republic of Congo in preference to a poor highway system.

But accidents are common, typically caused by overloading of passengers and cargo and the poor state of the vessels.

Tolls are often high because there are often no life jackets and many Congolese do not know how to swim.

The boat in Saturday's disaster was a "baleiniere" or "whaler" -- a flat-bottomed vessel with a canoe-like prow that is typically 15 to 30 metres (50 to 100 feet) long by two to six metres wide.

In April, at least 167 people died in two accidents, prompting President Felix Tshisekedi to make it mandatory for boat passengers to have lifebuoys.

Sub-Saharan Africa's biggest country, the DR Congo is beset with local conflicts, and the central government in Kinshasa has little control over remote areas.

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