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100 feared missing after boat sinks in C. Africa

File picture shows small boats on the Oubangui River in Bangui, Central African Republic/AFP

File picture shows small boats on the Oubangui River in Bangui, Central African Republic/AFP

BANGUI, Jan 15 – Nearly 100 people are feared missing in the Central African Republic after a boat caught fire and sank on a river in the strife-torn country this week, officials said Thursday.

The sinking happened on Monday after the boat’s motor exploded, starting a fire that quickly engulfed the vessel, with terrified passengers jumping overboard, officials told AFP.

It had been carrying an estimated 100 people down the Oubangui River from the capital Bangui when the fire broke out near the village of Modale.

A naval official said at least 80 people were on board the New Jerusalem when it left Bangui, 125 kilometres (77 miles) upstream from where it came to grief. “But others had probably been taken on during the voyage bringing the number of passengers to more than 100.”

Only one body has so far been found, he said, that of a “child who is being taken back to Bangui with his mother, one of the few survivors. It is hard to say how many people have died because there is no rescue team” in the area.

Joseph Tagbale, the mayor of the port district of Bangui, said it was difficult to estimate how many lives had been lost. “We are asking the authorities to search to see if there are any survivors.”

Overloaded and badly-maintained boats often sink on the Oubangui, with safety regulations rarely followed in the impoverished country, where thousands have died in fighting since a March 2013 coup.

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