At least 60 people have been found dead after a boat capsized in the Congo River in the western Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Al Jazeera reports. Hundreds of passengers are still missing. The boat was journeying from the capital, Kinshasa, to Mbandaka in the Equator province when it capsized near the village of Longola Ekoti in the Mai-Ndombe province.
Rescue mission ongoing
According to Steve Mbikayi, minister for humanitarian action, the incident occurred on Sunday 14th February, with 700 people on board the vessel. “So far the rescue team has recovered 60 lifeless bodies and 300 survivors.
There are still several missing after this shipwreck,” Mbikayi announced the day after the accident. 240 passengers remain unaccounted for. “The main cause of the sinking remains the overload of goods and the excess number of passengers in the whaling boat.” He additionally made the point that “night navigation also played a role in the sinking.”
Boat accidents common
The Congo river and its tributaries — primarily the Ubangi and the Sangha on the right bank, and the Kwa on the left bank — are the only viable routes for traveling long distances for many people.
The area has very few tarred roads throughout the almost two million square kilometers of humid forest. Unfortunately, fatal boat accidents are a common occurrence in the Congo, mainly due to the boats being overloaded with passengers and cargo well past their capacity.
Additionally, it’s the norm for passengers not to wear life jackets. Just last month, two children and one woman drowned after their boat sank in Lake Kivu.
In May last year, ten people, including an eight-year-old girl, died when the luxury ship they were traveling on capsized in Lake Kivu, one of the Great African Lakes. Also, in July 2010, over 135 people died after a boat capsized in the western province of Bandundu province.
The need for water safety
Prioritizing water safety is essential to protect all passengers while boating. In particular, drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury and death around the world, and can be common during boating.
Fortunately, simply wearing a life jacket is one of the most effective ways to prevent drowning, and keep passengers safe while out on the water. Taking the time to strengthen your swimming skills is also important: many adults and children lack even the most basic of swimming skills that could mean the difference between life and death in the case of capsizing or falling overboard. Passengers should also be mindful never to drink alcohol while boating. Alcohol can significantly hamper your judgment and decision-making skills, and, if you fall overboard, makes your odds of surviving less likely.
“We sympathize with the families of the victims and we demand sanctions against all those responsible for the transport sector,” Mbikayi said on the recent accident, without elaborating further. No more details have been released to the public at this time.