Dozens more feared dead in Sierra Leone boat wreck
The death toll in a shipwreck off Sierra Leone could rise from the 80 victims so far reported, as up to 300 people were aboard and only dozens have been rescued, maritime and military officials said on Thursday, Reuters reported.
The boat, originally thought to be carrying 150 people, mostly children returning from their school holidays, was caught in a heavy storm off the capital Freetown, on Tuesday.
But the harbourmaster at Tombo, a fishing village on the Freetown peninsula, said on Thursday that there were far more passengers on board than previously reckoned.
"The manifest that I received as harbourmaster indicates that there were over 200 passengers," Samuel Bangura said.
Bangura said the captain had made several more stops "picking up about 100 more passengers" at seaside villages after signing the manifest and before being caught in the storm.
A Sierra Leonean military source said the death toll could approach 200.
"We believe that the boat was carrying a conservative figure of 250, of which we have rescued 38 survivors ands fished out a total of 15 bodies," a senior military source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"I believe the remainder are dead, and very soon the search will come to an end," he said.
There has been no official explanation for the accident, the worst since a boat full of refugees fleeing Sierra Leone's decade-long war that ended in 2002 capsized. But overcrowding and a lack of safety measures are often blamed.
Aside from passengers, the boat was carrying piles of timber, gallons of palm oil, as well as chicken and cattle.
Hundreds of relatives rushed from Waterloo, the boat's departure point 12 km (8 miles) from Freetown, to Tombo in search of news of any survivors.
"I only saw my son two months ago when he left Tombo by a boat for holidays. Yesterday I received from his mother news about the shock death of our son," Ali Toure, father of 11 year-old John Turay, told Reuters.