Death toll in DR Congo boat accident rises to 16

Barges at a port on the Congo River. Lack of roads means that the waterways are widely used for transport in DR Congo, and accidents are common

Rescue workers have recovered 16 bodies from a crowded vessel that capsized on the Congo River at the weekend, sources in DR Congo's navy and Red Cross said on Wednesday.

The barge, locally known as a "baleiniere" or whaler, overturned on Sunday after leaving the river port of Maluku near Kinshasa, heading for Mbandaka, capital of Equateur province.

A preliminary toll had given nine dead and an unknown number of missing.

"We have saved 125 people. We have recovered 16 bodies," rescue operations chief Papy Kamalubanda, who commands a naval unit in the area, told AFP.

The flat-bottomed vessel came aground at the village of Malebo, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the capital.

An AFP team saw rescue workers standing in thick river mud, gathered around the inert body of a baby that had been retrieved from the water.

Farther off were the corpses of a man and a woman, roped together, in a mass of debris.

"There are still other bodies trapped inside. We are going to continue to recover the bodies tomorrow," a local Red Cross worker, Sita Faliala, said.

A survivor of the accident, Mado Tshala, said, "There were lots of us (on board), lots and lots of us.

"Several people drowned when the baleiniere overturned, and those who were downstairs found themselves underneath" the vessel, she said.

A vast country the size of continental western Europe, the Democratic Republic of Congo suffers from an acute lack of paved roads and railways, and rivers and waterways are a major form of transport.

Accidents are common, typically due to vessels that are overloaded or poorly maintained. Death tolls are tragically high due to a lack of life jackets and the fact that few Congolese learn how to swim.