The bodies of at least 52 people have been recovered from the Congo River after their boat capsized late last week, a provincial minister said on Monday, warning that the death toll could rise further with many still missing.
The boat was carrying over 300 people when it overturned near the town of Mbandaka in northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo during the night on Friday. Over the weekend 30 were confirmed to have drowned with 167 missing.
Didier Mbula, provincial health minister for Equateur Province, told Reuters the number of dead had since risen.
“We have recorded 52 bodies that were pulled out. The search teams are still in the field, working. This is still a provisional toll, and it may increase further,” he said by phone.
Deadly boat accidents are frequent on Congo’s rivers and lakes, where vessels are frequently loaded well beyond their capacity. The country has few tarred roads across its vast, forested territory, and river travel is common.
On Monday, Transport Minister Marc Ekila said the boat that capsized should not have been navigating at night, was overloaded, and had not properly identified its owners or the number of passengers on board.
In a statement, he promised to implement rules to improve the safety of river transport and “minimise the recurring tragedies.”