Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi has declared Friday a day of mourning with 114 people still missing days after a boat capsized on Lake Kivu, killing 13, the presidency said.
He has also decided to make it mandatory for passengers on the lake, the site of regular drownings, to have lifebuoys, Tshisekedi’s office said in a statement.
The motorised boat, known locally as a pirogue, had left the city of Goma on Lake Kivu’s northern shore, and was headed for the town of Kalehe to the west when it capsized Monday night.
“I was sitting in the bow. A big wave hit the pirogue, which capsized and we fell into the water,” Alice Uwezo Ruchiga, 18, told AFP.
With three others she clung to a plastic mattress until they were rescued by fishermen.
Isaac Ngeriyo, who also survived, added: “A woman and her child could not find a place on the mattress, and they drowned.”
According to the passenger manifest, which does not list stowaways, there were 49 adults and seven children on board the vessel, laden with goods.
“In my family, we lost Delphine (26) and Rebecca (15), their bodies have not been found yet,” said Shuturu Kayerani, their sister.
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 drowned passengers may have taken but is currently unusable.
River transport is one of the most used in DR Congo with its numerous waterways. Boat mishaps are common on the lakes and rivers of the resource-rich but impoverished former Belgian colony.
Accidents are typically caused by overloading of passengers and cargo on rickety vessels. The toll is often heavy because there are no life jackets and many Congolese do not know how to swim.
Twenty-seven people were reported drowned in a boat sinking in September last year, 26 last July, another 50 last May, and 40 people in April whose boats sank while they fled fighting.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country, the DR Congo is struggling with local conflicts, and in remote areas the control of the central government in Kinshasa is weak.
On Wednesday, the presidency had tweeted that 150 people were missing in the latest boat disaster, a figure it later withdrew.