The death toll in the boat accident in North Central Nigeria has risen to 28, emergency services said on Monday, as local communities mobilised in support of an intensified search for dozens still missing.
The boat ferrying more than 100 passengers, mostly women and children, capsized along the Niger River on Sunday morning. They were travelling to their farmlands in the Gbajibo community, located 251km (156 miles) from Minna, the capital of Niger state, the closest source of emergency response.
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It took several hours before help could reach the community in Mokwa district because of its remote location, and villagers nearby were on the lookout for bodies floating on the river, Niger State Emergency Management Agency spokesperson Ibrahim Audu told The Associated Press news agency.
Divers recovered four more bodies from the river by Monday morning with at least 40 passengers believed to be still missing, Audu said. Thirty had been rescued.
“Instruction has been passed across all the communities surrounding that place so that some of them will watch out [for bodies],” he said.
‘Search and rescue operations on’
Al Jazeera’s Fidelis Mbah, reporting from the capital Abuja, said that public officials in the Niger state were on their way to Mokwa region to find out what happened on Sunday when the boat capsized.
“Search and rescue operations are on, with marine police as well as local divers helping to find survivors and the bodies that have been washed away after the incident,” he said.
“Communities have taken the recovered bodies for funeral, with many of them still waiting to find possible survivors.”
Niger Governor Mohammed Umaru Bago described the accident as “shocking and sorrowful” and directed the state emergency services to assist those affected, according to a statement issued by his office. He reiterated the importance of using life jackets and avoiding overcrowded boats.
Concerns remained about the regular and deadly boat accidents in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country where a number of remote and riverine communities do not have access to good roads, leaving rivers as the only available means of transportation.
It is still not clear what caused the latest accident but emergency services personnel said it could be a result of overloading, the condition of the boat or a hindrance to the boat’s movement along the water.
It is the third boat accident in a week in Nigeria. On Saturday, at least 10 people died and three others were missing on Lake Njuwa in Adamawa State in the North East of the country. A week ago, a boat with 18 passengers capsized in Fufore district. At least one person died in that incident and another was missing.