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Ferry Sinks In Northern Zambia, Nearly 60 Dead - 2003-11-26

A boat carrying over 60 people has sunk in lake Mweru in the northern region of Zambia. According to a rescue team, only four people have survived.

An official in the office of the president who requested anonymity says twenty-seven bodies were retrieved by Wednesday afternoon.

The official who is in the area says a combined team of military personnel and local fishermen retrieved the bodies. She says the rescue team used fishing nets to retrieve the bodies because they do not have the necessary tools for the exercise. She says the search has continued in spite of such logistical difficulties.

The accident happened Monday morning local time when the boat left Mweru harbour for a small Island called Isokwe.

The four survivors say the boat was rocked by strong winds that sunk it. They say the boat failed to withstand the winds because it was overloaded.

The boat carried 60 passengers instead of 30 in addition to cargo. The survivors say five men paddled the boat. Their whereabouts is not known. Police have mounted a manhunt.

Government officials that include the provincial minister, a member of parliament and others are on the shores of lake Mweru to witness rescue efforts.

Vice President Nevers Mumba is expected to get to the area this Saturday.

Water transport is the cheapest and the only way the residents of the shores of lake Mweru have to reach the islands on the lake and is the only way of crossing into neighbouring DRC.

Scores of people are frequently on the lake as it provides the biggest source of income for most local residents.

They are engaged in fishing, cross border trade or provide transport services to those that do not own boats.

But observers say most of the boats do not meet safety standards. This, they say, has resulted in similar accidents, an apparent reference to a recent incidence when a pontoon in the western region of Zambia sunk while loaded with a heavy truck and several people on board. Most of them lost their lives.