The Democratic Republic of Congo has observed a day of national mourning for 13 people killed and more than 100 others feared dead after a boat accident earlier this week on Lake Kivu in the country’s east.
DRC President Felix Tshisekedi declared the day of commemoration in a statement on Thursday and announced he would make it obligatory for passengers on the lake, which straddles the DRC’s border with Rwanda and is a site of regular drownings, to wear lifebuoys.
Tshisekedi said 114 people were still missing following the incident on Monday night, which saw the boat capsize after it left the city of Goma on Lake Kivu’s northern shore.
The motorised vessel was headed for the town of Kalehe to the west.
According to the passenger manifest, which does not list stowaways, there were 49 adults and seven children on board the boat, which was reportedly laden with goods.
Emergency services said on Tuesday that 35 people had been rescued alive.
Frequent boat accidents
Travel by boat is one of the most commonly used methods of transport in the DRC, with the vast country’s thousands of kilometres of waterways linking areas that are otherwise unconnected by roads.
According to a 2016 study by the World Bank, river transport “has become a last resort in many areas, where the more infrastructure-intensive transport networks of roads or railways have broken down, or never existed”.
But boat accidents are a frequent occurrence in the impoverished former Belgian colony, with mishaps typically caused by the overloading of passengers and cargo on dilapidated vessels, some of which are not adequately stocked with life jackets.
At least people 27 people drowned last September when a vessel capsized on a tributary of the Congo River in northern DRC, according to local officials.
The incident took place just two months after 26 people were killed in a separate boat accident on the Congo River in July and 50 others were declared dead after a vessel tipped over in northwestern DRC in May.
Apollinaire Bulindi, an honorary provincial minister and engineer urged Tshisekedi on Tuesday to make good on a campaign pledge to repair the Goma-Bukavu highway that many of the passengers involved in this week’s accident may have taken but is currently unusable, the AFP news agency reported.
But the central government in the capital, Kinshasa, has weak control over remote areas in the country, including the eastern DRC, which is wracked by instability and an ongoing Ebola outbreak that has already claimed 843 lives, according to the country’s health ministry.