At least 15 people drowned when an overcrowded and dilapidated riverboat sank in northwest DR Congo, local sources said Thursday, in the latest shipwreck disaster to hit the vast central African country.
The death toll may be much higher, with differing reports of how many people were aboard the boat, which had travelled from the Central African Republic before capsizing in the Ubangi River on Saturday night.
"Fifteen of my constituents drowned in the shipwreck," Gbodi Kete, an official for the Bosobolo territory in DR Congo's North Ubangi province, told AFP.
However, Kete said there were also victims from the Central African Republic.
An officer from the Congolese naval force said 26 people had died, but added it was difficult to determine the exact number aboard as the boat's manifest had not been found.
The Liberte radio station in Gbadolite, the capital of North Ubangi, reported that a total of 42 people were dead or missing.
"The sinking was caused by the poor condition of the boat, which broke apart after hitting a big rock," a witness told Liberte.
Shipping disasters are common in the Democratic Republic of Congo, leaving many dead in the country's lakes and rivers because of overcrowding on old and poorly maintained vessels, a lack of life jackets and the fact that many people do not know how to swim.
In September, 27 people died after an overloaded boat that capsized in the northern Mongala river.
And in May, 50 people died in a similar accident on another river in the country's northwest.
(With inputs from agencies.)