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Thursday, April 8, 1999 Published at 18:09 GMT 19:09 UK

World: Africa

50 bodies trapped in ferry wreck

By Barnaby Phillips in Lagos.

Divers, who have located a ferry which sunk in Nigeria's southern Niger Delta last week, say the bodies of about 50 people are trapped inside the wreckage.

The boat, the MV George, sank on the night of 1 April near the city of Port Harcourt with an estimated 300 people onboard.

Many of the passengers managed to swim to safety or were picked up by rescue boats but the divers' discovery means the death toll has risen to about 100.

A private company of divers, contracted by relatives of those missing aboard the ferry, said it made the awful discovery when it finally located the wreck.

A spokesman estimated that there were 50 corpses trapped inside it and, as these had already partially decomposed, it was not possible to remove them.

Fierce storm

The police say the captain of the MV George, who survived the accident, is under investigation.

Eye-witnesses say the boat was heavily overloaded when it left Port Harcourt, taking people home to other parts of the Delta at the start of the Easter holiday period.

It sank after running into a fierce storm, which are common along Nigeria's Atlantic Coast at this time of year.

Local people have complained the authorities have been slow to help in the rescue effort and that it has been left to the relatives of the missing to organise it.

A spokesman for the state government said they were now looking at the feasibility of raising the entire wreckage from the river bed.

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