More than 140 people are missing and feared drowned after an overloaded boat “broke in two” and sank in Nigeria, officials say.
Only 22 survivors and one body have been recovered so far, administrative head of Ngaski district Abdullahi Buhari Wara said today.
The boat was ferrying about 160 passengers when it sank in the Niger River.
It left central Niger state and was heading to Wara in northwest Kebbi state when it broke apart.
“A rescue operation is underway but only 22 survivors and one dead body have been recovered,” Mr Wara said.
“We are talking of around 140 passengers still missing.”
River boat accidents are common on Nigerian waterways mostly due to overcrowding, bad weather and lack of maintenance, particularly in the annual rainy season.
Mr Wara blamed the Kebbi accident on overloading as the boat was meant to hold no more than 80 passengers.
The vessel was also loaded with bags of sand from a gold mine, the official said.
Many of the passengers were returning from a newly-discovered gold vein in Niger.
“They usually go there in the evenings and return to Wara in the morning,” Mr Wara said.
“Most of them are petty traders, food vendors and the local miners.”
Local people expect more bodies to wash up in the coming days, Wara resident Qasimu Umar Wara said.
“The boat was overloaded. My brother is among those missing,” he said.
“This is the worst boat accident that has happened in this water.”
Yahaya Sarki, a spokesman for the governor of Kebbi, said bodies were still being recovered.
“We can’t ascertain the number for now,” Mr Sarki added.
One survivor, Buhari Abubakar, claimed about 40 people had been rescued so far – more than the official figure.
However, many of the other passengers, mostly women and children, are still missing.
Earlier this month 30 people drowned when an overloaded boat capsized in central Niger state.
The boat ferrying 100 local traders split into two after hitting a stump during a storm as they were returning from a local market, according to emergency officials.
The Niger is West Africa’s main river running in a crescent through Guinea to Nigeria’s Niger Delta and is a key local trade route for some of the countries.
– with The Sun and AFP