At least 130 passengers are still missing, two days after the wreck of a Nigerian vessel off the coast of Cameroon. The wreck is one of a series of sea accidents to hit the region in recent years, as increasing numbers of immigrants seek their fortunes in neighboring countries. Only 25 survivors have been rescued.
The wooden ferry from Nigeria broke up in waters off the coast of Cameroon Wednesday. A local fisherman alerted authorities after he found bodies floating in the water and survivors clinging to wreckage of the vessel about 12 kilometers off the port town of Kribi.
The official passenger count was 150. However, some survivors said as many as 300 people were crowded aboard when the vessel sank. Bodies found on the beaches are being buried in mass graves in villages along the coast, making the total number of dead difficult to establish.
Wednesday's wreck is just the latest such incident off Cameroon's coast. The eastern edge of the Gulf of Guinea is part of a heavily traveled sea route between Nigeria and Gabon.
Red Cross sources say the ship was carrying passengers from Burkina Faso, Benin, Niger and Nigeria.
Gabon, an oil-producing nation with a shortage of manpower, has become a main destination, particularly for Nigerian laborers.
Nigerian civil rights campaigner, Nasir Abbas, says, desperate economic conditions at home are forcing more and more Nigerians to seek work elsewhere.
"Quite frankly, the issue of economic hardship is really pushing younger people [to go] out of the country, using all available means possible, whether legal or illegal," he said. "And these are all young men, who are jobless, and who do not see a future in Nigeria."
However, Abbas says economics is not the only reason Nigerians are going abroad. An insurgency in the Niger Delta, religious violence across the country and political infighting in the run-up to elections next year, he says, have only aggravated an already difficult situation in the country.
"The country is rather tilting towards an abnormal situation," he added. "You just see nothing is working. People are tired. People are just disenchanted about the whole thing. People are not really believing in the issue of this democracy."
More than 30 people drowned in almost identical circumstances last July. Almost 70 children were rescued from a sinking vessel in Cameroonian waters in 2001. And at least 280 passengers perished along the same route when their boat capsized in 1998.