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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 November, 2003, 20:01 GMT
DR Congo boat tragedy 'kills 200'
A ferry destined for the Democratic Republic of Congo leaves Bangui in the Central African Republic on 10 November
Ferries in Africa are notoriously overcrowded
More than 200 people are feared dead after a ferry accident during a storm in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A DR Congo minister says that 163 bodies have been recovered on Lake Mayi Ndombe, about 400 kilometres (248 miles) north-east of the capital.

It is still unclear whether more than one vessel was involved.

Some reports said two ferries collided, but a BBC correspondent, Arnaud Zajtman, said he was told only one ferry carrying 290 people sank.

The transport ministry told him an engine on the boat was not working.

The Congolese Government says it has sent a medical team to the area.

Congolese ferries are notorious for overcrowding and poor maintenance.

Mass burials

"I saw people on the roof and the boat's hull. When the boat split, everyone fell in the water, searching for something to hold onto," Bienvenue Mwanku, a passenger, told the AP news agency by telephone from Inongo, near the crash site.

The Dieu Merci [Thank God] capsized in the middle of the lake says the BBC reporter.

AFRICAN FERRY DISASTERS
Senegal, Oct 2002 - 1,800 died
Burundi, Mar 2003 - some 100 deaths
DR Congo, Nov 2003 - 163 deaths

It happened on Tuesday, but news only reached the capital Kinshasa late on Wednesday due to poor communications.

Some 100 people are still missing.

The Dieu Merci's owner, Ntomba Nzondo, said that 120 people had already been buried.

Our correspondent says it is unlikely that any more survivors will be found.

Relief efforts

Didier Bontange, a doctor with the French aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres who was in the area when the disaster occurred, is now co-ordinating the relief effort, helped by students from a local medical school.

He too says that just one double-hulled ferry, the Dieu Merci (Thank God) was involved.

He told the BBC that the survivors are in desperate need of help.

A United Nations helicopter has flown over the lake to assess the exact needs, but humanitarian personnel on board said that they could only see floating wreckage and bundles of traders' goods.

Our correspondent says rivers are a central part of the lives of many Congolese, and the River Congo is often used as the highway of the nation.

Lake Mayi Ndombe lies on a tributary of the River Congo, which was reopened to commercial traffic in April after being closed during a five-year war.

The 2,300km sq lake doubles or triples in size during the rainy season, which is just starting.

Railway tragedy

In another disaster to strike DR Congo, a man died after a train hit a landslide and plunged into a river on Wednesday.

The body of a mechanic has been found. Ten railway workers are missing.

Two engines and two carriages were lost in the accident, which took place near the western town of Matadi, DR Congo's Information Minister Vital Kamhere told Reuters news agency.

Mr Kamhere said DR Congo's state-owned transport company only owned five train engines before the accident.

"This is going to make our work very difficult," he said.


SEE ALSO:
Profile: River Congo
27 Nov 03  |  Africa
'No hope' after DR Congo sinking
24 Mar 03  |  Africa
Country profile: Democratic Republic of Congo
23 Aug 03  |  Country profiles
Scores sucked out of plane
10 May 03  |  Africa
Dozens feared drowned in Congo
03 May 01  |  Africa
Congo river reopens to trade
20 Jul 02  |  Africa



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