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Sat, 12 Sep 2009 Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone Boat Tragedy - Many Children Missing

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By Daily Graphic

The overcrowded boat that capsized off Sierra Leone with more than 150 people on board was not carrying lifejackets, the information minister has said.

'The rules were violated, the boat did not carry lifejackets and people died,' Ibrahim Ben-Kargbo told the BBC.

The vessel with an outboard motor was reported to be carrying many children returning from their school holidays.

The head of naval rescue mission said 36 people has been saved and 10 bodies had been recovered. 'In addition local fishermen and other volunteers are all searching frantically at the scene of the disaster in the hope of rescuing more bodies,' police spokesman Ibrahim Samura told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

But Mr Ben-Kargbo described the efforts more as a 'recovery' mission now as hopes of finding other survivors are slim.

The boat was travelling a sea route of about 65km (40 miles) along the coast from the town of Shenge to the village of Tombo near the capital, Freetown.

It capsized not long after it left Shenge near Plantain Island. The vessel has not been found and all fishing activities near Tombo have stopped.

Local journalist Edward Sesay in Tombo told the BBC News website the village is in a state of mourning as relatives wait for news.

He said one man had nine children on the boat who were returning to start the new school term.

The boat's owner has not been found to comment on the accident. Lieutenant Suma, who is in charge of the rescue mission, said he suspected the boat might have been carrying up to 200 passengers.

Mr Ben-Kargbo said the cause of the accident seemed to suggest overcrowding. 'Eyewitnesses in Shenge said the boat was very small and it was forced to carry a very large number of people,' he said.

— BBC

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