Cape Argus

Dozens of bodies pulled from water after boat sinks


NGASKI: Nigerian rescue workers pulled more than three dozen bodies from the water yesterday after an overcrowde­d river boat sank leaving more than 150 people missing and feared drowned.

Survivors and officials said only 20 people were rescued when the wooden boat ferrying passengers to a market broke apart and sank travelling between central Niger state and Wara in north-west Kebbi state.

“So far 45 bodies have been found. The search continues for more bodies,”

Abubakar Shehu, a local official supervisin­g the rescue operation, said.

River boat tragedies are common on Nigerian waterways mostly due to overcrowdi­ng, weather and lack of maintenanc­e, but Wednesday’s toll would be one of the deadliest in recent years.

President Muhammadu Buhari called the sinking “devastatin­g” after the country’s inland waterways authority said only 20 people had been rescued and another 156 were still missing.

“When the boat broke into two, I wondered if people were sinking into the water,” survivor Usman Umar said, standing by the river bank in the Ngaski area in Kebbi.

“The boat capacity was something up to 150 people; us survivors can’t be even 20.”

Ali Ibrahim Garba, wearing an orange life jacket and standing near wooden boats on the river bank, said they were still searching for missing people after saving as many as they could. “Right now we are in search of three people, one male and two females,” he said.

The local manager of the National Inland Waterways Authority (Niwa), Yusuf Birma said the boat was overcrowde­d with about 180 people on board and went down an hour into its journey.

Local district administra­tor Abdullahi Buhari Wara said the boat was also loaded with bags of sand from a gold mine.

Niwa has banned night-time sailing on rivers to stop accidents and says overloadin­g ships is a criminal offence, but skippers and crews often ignore the regulation­s.

Earlier this month, 30 people drowned when an overloaded boat capsized in Niger state. The boat carrying 100 local traders also split into two after hitting a trunk during a storm as they were returning from a local market.

The Niger, West Africa’s main river travelling through Guinea to Nigeria’s Niger Delta, is a key local trade route for some countries. |

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