At least 80 people are feared dead after an overloaded ferry capsized in the southwest of the Democratic Republic of Congo early Monday morning. Local officials say bad weather contributed to the disaster and add the final death toll could be much higher.

This is the latest in a succession of disasters involving public transport in Africa's vast Democratic Republic of Congo. Most of the passengers aboard the overloaded ferry were women who were taking their agricultural produce to market.

The accident happened in the early hours of Monday morning near the southwestern diamond mining town of Tshikapa, where the market is, but news of the accident reached Kinshasa only on Tuesday and local officials say they still do not know how many people are missing.

Hilarion Sala, a local official, said Tuesday the barge was so overloaded the final death toll could climb as high as 200.

A UN aid worker said the world body had also received similar reports of numbers of dead but it was not clear how many more people were missing. There were reports of survivors, but the numbers vary widely.

Boat disasters are relatively common in Congo where roads have been ravaged by years of civil war and neglect and water transport is often the only way to cover the vast distances between villages

The UN aid worker said that there were reports that the boat had capsized after being overloaded and coming across strong winds. Those involved in the rescue operation were talking about dead, rather than missing, the official added.

Poor communications in remote areas in Congo often means that determining the scale of such accidents can take time.