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Congo death boat was overloaded

A ferry that sank in the Congo killing up to 200 people was overloaded by four times its safe capacity.

Operators bribed officials to allow them to cram passengers on, Kasai Occidental Province deputy governor Hubert Mbingho said.

He said that at least 153 passengers were on the boat that capsized on the Kasai River. But he said the passenger list only had 36 names.

"We are waiting for investigations to finish so that we could arrest and punish all officials who were in charge of checking the vessel safety condition but failed to stop it from leaving the dock," he said.

Two survivors said "hundreds" of people were aboard when the engine caught fire, leading the boat to capsize. One estimated 200 drowned, and another said that local fishermen refused to help drowning passengers, instead looting goods from the burning vessel and beating people with oars in the dark.

Investigators had found only three bodies, two children and a woman who appeared to be in her 30s.

Mr Mbingho said the boat's operators bribed officials to overload the boat and had now gone into hiding.

"When we asked the official of the navigation department why he allowed the vessel to leave the dock, he did not have anything to say," he said. "We've noticed that there were bribes that the vessel managers gave him, and we don't know whether more people were added over the 153 passengers declared to have been aboard the vessel."

Robert Mbwinga, chairman of Congo's National Navigation Department, said rules regulating boats were difficult to enforce in a country with crippling poverty and high unemployment.

Owners may hire people simply because they are relatives needing jobs, even if they have no training. Low salaries for navigation department agents are also a problem as they are susceptible to bribery.

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From Belfast Telegraph