Rescue workers have pulled three dozen bodies from the water after an overcrowded riverboat capsized in the Ingaski Local Government Area of Kebbi on Wednesday.
Survivors and officials said only 20 people were rescued on Wednesday when the wooden boat ferrying passengers to a market broke apart and sank between Niger state and Wara in Kebbi state.
“Five bodies were recovered yesterday and 31 bodies today, and the recovery operation is ongoing. More bodies are expected to be found,” Abubakar Shehu, a local official supervising the rescue operation said.
“The bodies are bloated and now coming to the surface which makes it easy to spot them.”
Riverboat tragedies have become commonplace in Nigeria, mostly due to overcrowding, weather and lack of maintenance, but Wednesday’s toll is one of the deadliest yet in recent years.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday called the mishap “devastating” after the inland waterways authority had said only 20 people had been rescued and another 156 were still missing.
“When the boat broke into two, I wondered if people were sinking into the water,” survivor Usman Umar said, standing by the riverbank in Ngaski area in Kebbi.
“The boat capacity was something up to 150 people, us survivors can’t be even 20.”
Ali Ibrahim Garba, wearing an orange life jacket standing near wooden boats on the river bank, said they were still searching for missing people after saving as many as they could.
“Right now we are in search of three people, one male and two females,” he said.
NIW’s local manager, Yusuf Birma told reporters on Wednesday the boat was overcrowded with around 180 people and went down an hour into its journey.
Local district administrator Abdullahi Buhari Wara said the boat was also loaded with bags of sand from a gold mine.
NIWA has also banned night-time sailing on the rivers to stop accidents and says overloading ships is a criminal offense, but skippers and crews often ignore the regulations.
Early in May, 30 people drowned when an overloaded boat capsized in Niger state.
The boat carrying 100 local traders also split into two after hitting a trunk during a storm as they were returning from a local market.