DR CONGO

Third boat accident in three weeks claims about 50 lives

About 50 people died when an overloaded boat capsized in a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a local official said on Friday. In the last three weeks, river accidents in the country have claimed more than 150 lives.

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AFP - Three river boats have capsized in less than three weeks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, claiming more than 150 lives in accidents river authorities blame on overloading the vessels.

Early Tuesday afternoon, a boat named the Men Exel capsized with about 100 people on board at the junction of the Inzia and Kwilu rivers in the western Bandundu province, officials said Friday. About 50 people drowned.

"The causes of the shipwreck are not yet known, but there were too many passengers," river commissioner Patrick Musitungu said. "There were about 50 dead and about the same number who survived."

The open boat was loaded with bags of manioc, maize and groundnuts, and should have had no more than 20 passengers on board, he said.

Part of the problem was that "men in uniform make threats to have the boat leave overloaded," once they have been paid by the extra passengers, Musitungu said, without specifying whether he meant troops or police.

On September 28, a boat called the HB Trans Nyalongo sank at the junction of the Sumbuji and Kasai rivers, 95 kilometres from Tshikapa, in Kasai Occidental province, according to Albert Beya, river commissioner for Tshikapa.

The latest toll from that disaster was 12 drowned, 40 rescued and about 100 people unaccounted for. Beya stated that the boat, which was carrying at least 150 people plus farm produce, had been recovered from the river bottom.

The boat, which was making its way from Maimbi to Tshikapa, probably sank because it was overloaded and ran into a strong current, Beya added. Most of the survivors were on the roof of the boat and had time to get away before it sank.

On September 13, on the Congo river in the southeastern Katanga province, a boat carrying more than 200 passengers capsized in the middle of the night in a region infested with crocodiles.

Ninety people perished, 25 were declared missing and almost 100 survived, but the boat theoretically had a maximum passenger capacity of 50.

River transport is widely used in the DR Congo, which has several major waterways including the Congo river, which is 4,700 kilometres (2,915 miles) long.

However, boats frequently capsize on lakes and rivers, partly because of overloading, when cargo manifests are sometimes fraudulently filled in, and partly because of the bad signposting of navigable waterways.

Most boats lack navigational safeguards including signal lamps, lifebelts and lifejackets.

"There's no miracle solution, unless it's respect for the security norms," Simon Vivila, technical administrator at the maritime waterways authority (RVM), told AFP.

The RVM is in charge of navigation between Matadi in Bas-Congo and the sea port of Banana, on the Atlantic Coast. "We have to give controllers the means to respect the rules of navigation," Vivila said.

Asked about the accident of March 13, Transport Minister Matthieu Mpita said he was "aware of the phenomenon" of bad signposting on waterways. "The country is vast, but it's a concern for us to reform this sector."
 

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