At least 27 people drowned and others were presumed dead after a riverboat capsized on a tributary of the Congo River in northern DR Congo, a local official said Wednesday.
“We pulled 27 bodies from the Mongala river after the craft capsized overnight,” Provincial Governor, Alpha Belo-Ngwata, told AFP.
“Other bodies are still underwater. Rescue teams are trying to recover them,” he added, unable to provide a precise toll.
Junior Mozobo, who survived the accident, told AFP that some 60 people, mainly traders and students, had been aboard the canoe-shaped craft dubbed HB Espoir (hope).
Mozobo blamed operators for overloading a boat that was already in poor condition and then setting sail after dark.
Authorities were searching for the boat’s owner, who fled following the accident some 1,500 kilometres (900 miles) northeast of the capital Kinshasa.
Known locally as baleinieres (literally, whalers), the boats resemble motorised canoes and can measure from 15 to 30 metres (50 to 100 feet) long and two to six metres wide.
They can carry up to 140 tonnes of goods and dozens of passengers, who are not provided with life jackets even though many typically cannot swim.
In May, 50 people died in a similar accident on another river in the northwest of the sprawling former Belgian colony.