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More Than 120 Dead as 'Overcrowded' Ferry Sinks in DR Congo

Rescue workers are battling to find survivors amid fears that the boat may have been carrying hundreds more than first reported when it capsized in Lake Tanganyika.

by Sally Hayden
Dec 15 2014, 12:27pm

Image via Flickr

At least 129 people have been found dead after a boat capsized in Lake Tanganyika, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where rescuers were on Monday working to locate survivors amid fears that hundreds more may have drowned.

The ferry was travelling between Katanga and South Kivu in eastern Congo.

District commissioner Jean Félix Ilunga told United Nations-founded radio station Okapi that about 350 passengers were on board the M/V Mutambala when the ferry went down. 

However, Deputy Inspector General of Police Abdulrahman Kaniki told Reuters that the number on board — including crew — was much greater than that. "It was carrying about 500 people and about 230 people have been rescued so far," Kaniki said, attributing the information to the head of the Tanzanian marine police.

AP has updated the death toll, reporting that Laurent Kahozi Sumba, the transport minister for Katanga province, said on Sunday that while the full extent of the disaster is not known, 129 bodies have been recovered and there are 232 known survivors.

The Congolese government said that Transport Minister Kalumba Mwana Ngongo was traveling to the scene of the accident, which is about 55 miles south of the town of Kalemie.

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Overcrowding is one of the suggested causes of the disaster.

The district commissioner of Tanganyika, Jean-Félix Ilunga Mpafu, told Radio Okapi that the scale of the tragedy had shocked him, and that he blamed the maritime services and ship owners for the accident.

"The Maritime Commissioner of Moba wasted his entire career. Even his life, he will first go to jail. The shipowner had fun doing this, be aware that sanctions also await him," he said.

Lake Tanganyika is estimated to be the largest freshwater lake in the world. It is also bordered by Zambia, Burundi, and Tanzania.

In 1965 Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara used the western shores of Lake Tanganyika as a training camp for guerrilla forces, as part of a failed attempt to support an insurgency and spark a revolution in the country.

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Photo via Flickr

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd

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