More than 150 people were reported missing and presumed drowned in north-west Nigeria on Wednesday when an overcrowded boat ferrying passengers to a market sunk in the Niger River, according to local officials.
According to National Inland Waterways Authority local manager Yusuf Birma, the boat was travelling between central Niger state and Wara in north-west Kebbi state when it went down.
“The boat capacity was not up to the 180 passengers it carried,” Birma said.
“As we speak, only 20 people have been rescued alive, four dead confirmed while the remaining 156 people are still missing and they are believed to be underwater.”
President Muhammadu Buhari said the accident was “devastating” and offered his condolences to families, though his statement gave no official total of the number of casualities.
Birma said passengers were heading to a market in Malele in Borgu local government area of Niger state, when the boat sank an hour into the journey.
“The boat involved was a wooden boat which was old and very weak but these people (skippers) would not listen when we sensitised them to reduce the number of passengers they carry in their boats,” Birma said.
Local district administrator Abdullahi Buhari Wara earlier blamed the accident on overloading as the boat was meant to ferry no more than 80 passengers.
The vessel was also loaded with bags of sand from a gold mine, he said.
An overloaded boat sank in Niger state earlier this month, killing 30 people.
According to emergency personnel, the boat transporting 100 local traders broke in two after hitting a stump during a storm on its way back from a local market.
The Niger is West Africa’s principal river, flowing in a crescent from Guinea to Nigeria’s Niger Delta and serving as a vital local commerce route for some of the nations.