58 die after boat capsizes in Central Africa

AFP || Shining BD

Published: 4/21/2024 10:03:36 AM

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 do not 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 village chief in Makolo, some 45km 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 journalist observed.

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

Unrest and poverty

The Central African Republic is ranked by the United Nations as the second least-developed country in the world.

A civil war has plagued the former French colony since a Muslim-dominated armed coalition called the Seleka ousted former president Francois Bozize in 2013.

The conflict lost intensity from 2018 but the country still suffers bouts of violence by rebel groups or over its resources, which include gold and diamonds.

French intervention and deployment of UN peacekeepers paved the way for elections in 2016, which President Faustin Archange Touadera won.

Two years later, Touadera brought in fighters from Russia's Wagner mercenary group to help train his armed forces.

The country still suffers bouts of violence by rebel groups or over its resources, which include gold and diamonds.

In 2020, CAR brought in more Russian operatives as rebel groups advanced on the capital and repelled a siege of Bangui.

However, some areas of the country remain outside government control.

Shining BD