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At least 129 drown in DR Congo boat disaster

Women in Kalemie in DR Congo's Katanga province wash clothes on September 9, 2014 in the Lukaga river that runs into Lake Tanganyika/AFP

Women in Kalemie in DR Congo’s Katanga province wash clothes on September 9, 2014 in the Lukaga river that runs into Lake Tanganyika/AFP

LUBUMBASHI, DR Congo, Dec 14 – At least 129 people drowned when a passenger ship capsized on Lake Tanganyika in the southeast of Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a new official death toll Sunday.

“Rescue workers recovered a total of 129 bodies,” Laurent Kahozi Sumba, minister for transport of DRC’s Katanga province, told AFP, adding there were a number of women and children among the victims in Thursday’s disaster.

The new toll represented a dramatic increase on the provisional figure given Saturday by the government of DRC’s Katanga province, which had spoken of at least 26 dead.

So far, the number of survivors stood at 232, mostly men, Kahozi Sumba said, adding that rescue workers had found more people in the water after clinging to petrol cans and other floating objects for more than 48 hours and were now in a very weakened condition.

“The search for other survivors and bodies is continuing,” he added. READ: Congo must stop deportations back to DRC.

The accident took place Thursday night in the north of Katanga province, between the towns of Moba and Kalemie.

Officials said strong winds and overloading caused the M/V Mutambala, which was bound for Uvira further north in South Kivu province, to capsize.

The boat was carrying cargo as well as passengers.

The Great Lakes of Central Africa, the best-known of which are Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi, can be as treacherous in bad weather as many seas.

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Shipwrecks involving overloaded vessels are frequent and the numbers of fatalities often very high due to a shortage of life jackets and the fact that many people in the region cannot swim.

In March, at least 210 Congolese refugees returning home from Uganda drowned when an overcrowded boat sank on Lake Albert, on the border between the two countries.

That shipwreck, which came days after Kinshasa launched a campaign to enforce the wearing of life jackets on the nation’s waterways, was the deadliest in Congolese history, the government said.

Lake Tanganyika, which is one of the world’s biggest freshwater lakes as well as being the longest, also borders Tanzania, as well as Burundi and Zambia.

The first Europeans to discover the lake were Richard Burton and John Speke, who stumbled across the inland sea on an 1857 expedition to explore inland from the east African coast.

By the time they arrived at the body of water Speke’s sight was failing and Burton could barely walk.

Speke later continued his travels alone and discovered Lake Victoria.

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