Overloaded river boat in Central Africa capsizes: 58 dead

At least 58 people going to a funeral died after their overloaded river boat capsized in the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui, the head of civil protection said on Saturday.

“We were able to extract 58 lifeless bodies,” Thomas Djimasse told Radio Guira. “We don’t know the total number of people who are underwater.

According to witnesses and videos on social media, the wooden boat was carrying more than 300 people — some standing and others perched on wooden structures — when it sank on the Mpoko river on Friday. 

The vessel was heading to the funeral of a vi llage chief in Makolo, some 45 kilometres (28 miles) from Bangui, but got into difficulty shortly after setting off from the pier.

Rescue services arrived 40 minutes after the disaster.

The government did not respond on Saturday but in a speech recorded on Friday and broadcast a day later, government spokesman Maxime Balalou had reported a “provisional toll of at least 30 dead”.

The government sent its condolences to the bereaved families, he said, announcing the opening of an investigation and the setting up of a support system for families of the victims.

Maurice Kapenya, who was following the boat in a canoe because there was no space on board, said his own sister was among the bodies of the victims he had recovered.

He was helped by local fisherman and residents. Motorbike taxis meanwhile evacuated some of the injured.

Driver Francis Maka told AFP he had “taken more than 10 people to the community hospital… free of charge, in the face of the tragedy”.

With civil protection teams no longer on the scene Saturday, desperate families searching for missing loved ones near the river helped canoe operators they had hired, an AFP jour nalist observed.

Several opposition parties expressed solidarity with the families and called for national mourning.

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