2023October 2023

At Least 27 Dead Following Boat Wreck in Congo

Megan Pitt
Staff Writer

A boat capsized in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on October 13. The Washington Post explains that the New Civil Society of Congo reported that of more than 100 passengers onboard, 49 were found dead, although a government official reported that only 27 people were found dead with more than 70 are still missing. The Washington Post explained that contradicting death tolls are common in Congo. Deputy Provincial Governor Taylor Nganzi reported that the boat had been traveling from the city of Mbandaka in Equateur Province to the town of Bolomba when it began to sink after an engine failure, The Associated Press shares. Nganzi said an investigation had been opened.

The Associated Press explains that boating accidents are common on the Congo River. The boats tend to be overloaded with passengers and supplies due to a lack of usable roads in the nation. Moreover, there is a widespread use of makeshift boats in the country. The boat involved in the accident on October 13 was locally made.

The Congolese government, the Associated Press also noted, has been making strides to lessen the number of boating accidents, but some citizens fail to act in accordance with the government’s directives. The government has banned night travel, for example, but many boaters do not obey the nation’s boating rules. An article by Reuters reports that the provincial health minister for Equateur Province, Didier Mbula, was quoted sharing that the boat that capsized near Mbandaka was traveling at night, which is in direct disobedience to the nation’s boating restrictions. 

According to France 24, the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo condemned such unauthorized behavior, urging the ministers of his cabinet to “do everything possible to avoid shipwrecks…the main causes of which are overloading of passenger and merchandise, poor marking of waterways, night-time navigation, and the non-compliance of boats with regulations.” However, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s opposition leader, Moïse Katumbi placed the blame on the government. As stated by the BBC, Katumbi said, “[the accident] was a direct consequence of the government which tolerates the overnight navigation of dilapidated and overloaded boats.”

Many survivors recalled the terror that ensued during the incident, helping to shed light on what may have contributed to the boat’s capsizing. One passenger described the boat stalling and losing its balance before capsizing, and another survivor, Michael Busakasa, described the attempts of the boat’s crew to rebalance the vehicle. He explained to the BBC that the passengers and crew tried to move cement bags to even the weight distribution on the boat, but their efforts were to no avail; “Immediately, the boat began to sink,” he said. “I don’t know how to swim, but my father, mother and myself were all at the front, at the entrance–that part was still floating and that’s what saved us with the help from people who came to our rescue.” An additional survivor, Korami Mopole, described his experience to the BBC, stating that “All my body was under the water, except my head. I clung to a wooden part of the boat until some people arrived with a canoe to save me,” he said. 

The BBC notes that the provincial government of Equateur is going to “provide psychological support for children who were injured in the accident and lost their parents.” Many passengers on board were not wearing life jackets, the BBC reported, which, again, points toward lacking governmental restrictions concerning boat safety and inadequate adherence to safety protocol. 

Image courtesy of Flickr

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