/ 29 November 2009

Scores dead in DRC boat accident

At least 73 people died when two linked barges sank in a lake in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Saturday.

”Up to Friday night, we had counted 73 dead and 276 who escaped,” isaid country director Dominique Lutula. ”There are probably more bodies trapped inside the barges that went down.”

The barges — which Lutula said were linked to each other — sank on Wednesday night in Mai-Ndombe lake, in western Bandundu province, about 400km north-east of Kinshasa.

”There are 200 Red Cross rescue workers on the shore of the lake — which is very large — along with other people, busy recovering bodies, some of which have already been buried,” Lutula said.

”We are also in the process of rounding up survivors.”

Citing local authorities, UN-backed Radio Okapi said the barges went down amid strong winds at about 8pm (7pm GMT). Owned by a timber company, the barges were carrying logs and the passengers were along for the ride.

Travel by waterways is commonplace in the DRC, where it is often hard to know how many people are travelling on a vessel.

Disasters are frequent, often due to overloading, and boats and barges frequently carry no life jackets.

In September, more than 250 people died in three boat accidents in as many weeks on Congolese waterways.

Known as Lake Leopold until the 1970s, Lake Mai-Ndombe — in a region thick with tropical forest — is 120km long, and as much as 50km wide at one point. – AFP