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Dozens Die in DRC Boat Accident


More than 40 people are dead and many more are missing after a fleet of boats transporting fuel to cell phone company Vodacom's local offices capsized in a river in northwestern DRC. This was the second boat accident in less than 10 days in the chaotic, war-torn country. Naomi Schwarz has more from VOA's West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

More than 80 people were riding in the boats on the Tshuapa River in rural northwest Congo's Equateur province.

Now, many are reported dead and rescuers are still searching for survivors.

The boats capsized on Sunday night. The cause of the accident is not known, but survivors told journalists poor nighttime visibility was a problem.

An analyst for the South-African based Institute for Security Studies, Paul Simon Hendy, says water transport is often used because roads are expensive to build and maintain in the vast rainforests of the DRC.

"As an alternative, the rivers of the country, and the country has a lot, are actually the biggest transportation and even communication network," he said. "They build an essential part of the transportation network in the country."

But the boats are often in poor condition and frequently lack equipment such as life jackets and signal flares. At least a dozen people died earlier this month when a boat sank in the Congo River.

Hendy says regulations are inadequate and poorly enforced.

"Not only ships are old, but even there is no guarantee that even people driving them have the necessary experience," he added.

Observers say overcrowding on the boats are an additional safety issue. Boats are often filled well beyond their capacity (and beyond the passenger list given to officials).

Experts say given the vast size of the Congo and its continuing security problems, it will likely be a long time before safety standards improve.

Although rich in natural resources, the DRC is one of the world's poorest, and least stable countries. The country has suffered multiple civil wars and decades of rebel uprisings. Democratic elections were held last year, but the country faces a renewed conflict with rebels in the east.

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