Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 13 July 2014

Fishermen 'looted sinking boat'

At least 200 are feared dead after the boat capsized on the Kasai River in southern Congo

Survivors who swam to safety after their overcrowded boat capsized on a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo said fishermen refused to help drowning passengers, instead looting the goods aboard the burning vessel and beating people with oars.

At least 200 people are feared dead from the capsizing in southern Congo, one of two deadly boat accidents in as many days.

Seventy other people died in another weekend accident in the country's north-west.

Romaine Mishondo, who survived the incident in southern Congo, said the vessel was so crowded it reminded her of "a whole market in the village full of people". The boat had stopped to pick up even more people just 10 minutes before a fire broke out.

As people began jumping overboard, nearby fishermen ignored the passengers' pleas for help.

"Fishermen attacked the boat and started beating passengers with paddles as they were (trying) to loot goods," she said. "The fishermen refused to save passengers, instead taking goods into their (boats). ... I survived because I hung onto a jerry can until another vessel passed by the scene and rescued us."

Francois Madila, an official from the navigation department in the province, said police had arrested two crew members and were investigating the capsizing, which took place near the central African nation's border with Angola.

The passenger list appeared to have disappeared in the fire.

Passenger Fabrice Muamba, who was on the boat when it caught fire on Saturday night on the Kasai River, said he thought only 15 people aboard were able to swim to safety.

Boat owner Mwamba Mwati Nguma Leonard said a survivor and an employee had called to tell him that the vessel had caught fire when workers spilled fuel and started the engine. He said he had asked police to arrest the boat's managers as he believes they employed unskilled workers.

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