At least 60 people have been killed and 240 are unaccounted for as a passenger barge carrying more than 700 people capsizes in Congo River in western Mai-Ndombe province.

Deadly boat accidents are common in DRC, which has few tarred roads across its vast, forested interior, and where vessels are frequently loaded well beyond their capacity.
Deadly boat accidents are common in DRC, which has few tarred roads across its vast, forested interior, and where vessels are frequently loaded well beyond their capacity. (AFP Archive)

At least 60 people have died after a passenger barge carrying more than 700 people became shipwrecked on the Congo River at night in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The country's Humanitarian Affairs Minister Steve Mbikayi said on Monday that some 300 survivors have been found near the scene of the accident in Mai-Ndombe province in the west of the country, but another 240 remained unaccounted for.

"We sympathise with the families of the victims and we demand sanctions against all those responsible for the transport sector," Mbikayi said. 

The boat involved was called a "baleiniere" or "whaler" – a commonly-used flat-bottomed vessel between 15 to 30 metres long by two to six metres wide.

It was headed for Mbandaka, the capital of DRC's Equateur province, around 700 km from Kinshasa.

Deadly boat accidents are common in DRC, which has few tarred roads across its vast, forested interior and where vessels are frequently loaded well beyond their capacity.

For most people, the Congo River and its tributaries are the only means of travelling long distances.

READ MORE: Scores feared dead as boat capsizes in eastern DRC

Frequent shipwrecks 

Shipwrecks are frequent in these troubled waters, often with a high human toll.

The boats are often dilapidated and overloaded, with passengers not wearing life jackets and many of them not able to swim.

Those running the boats also frequently dodge weight restrictions.

After a devastating shipwreck on Lake Kivu that killed 142 people, President Felix Tshisekedi announced in April 2019 that all passengers should wear life jackets.

But the requirement is routinely ignored.

READ MORE: Over two dozen feared dead in DRC barge sinking

Source: Reuters