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Boat sinks in Kasai River; scores drown

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KINSHASA, 18 Jan 2005 (IRIN) - Scores of people are believed to have drowned after a cabin boat sank in the Kasai River on Monday near the town of Tshikapa in Kasai Oriental Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"The boat's manifest only allows for 40 passengers," Alexis Mikende, of the Tshikapa-based NGO Corps des volontaires pour developpement, said. "But survivors who managed to swim ashore said 300 passengers were aboard and that almost 200 are now missing."

The mayor of Tshikapa, Hubert Mbingho M'vula, told IRIN that the boat, named Trans Jeunesse Difonda III, sank between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. on Monday. He said the boat had left the village of Diponga and sank near the village of Katoka 15 km south of Tshikapa which was to have been its destination.

"The reason the boat sank was overloading and [poor] navigation," Mbingho said.

Meteorologists at Tshikapa recorded heavy rain at the time.

Local authorities sent a team down river to search for survivors but none were found. "We are now just waiting for the bodies to surface so that we can get a final count," Mbingho said.

Authorities said the passengers included students, soldiers and policemen as well as local traders and freight.

Boat accidents are common along Congo's waterways. On 10 October 2004, at least 68 people were killed in Lake Kivu when two large motorised wooden canoes capsized during violent winds.


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