At least 22 people have died and scores have been injured after an overloaded passenger boat sank off the coast of Guinea-Bissau on Friday. Rescue workers are continuing to search for the nine people who were on the boat at the time of the incident and are still missing.
Authorities initially feared that the death toll would be far higher, as preliminary reports to the media indicated that only six survivors had been rescued. However, rescue workers worked tirelessly to account for the missing passengers, many of whom were feared dead, and were able to rescue a further 70 people by the end of Saturday. The 76 survivors have been admitted to local hospitals where they are being treated for minor injuries and hypothermia, said authorities. Two of the injured are in a critical condition and are being cared for in an intensive care unit, said a hospital spokesperson.
The accident occurred on Friday afternoon, when an overloaded boat carrying over 100 people sank while en route from the Atlantic island of Boloma to the West African country of Guinea-Bissau. Boloma is one of a number of small islands that are largely uninhabited, forming an archipelago off the coast of Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony. It is thought that the passengers were travelling to Bissau to visit a market.
According to one of the rescue workers on the scene, 22 bodies have been recovered from the frigid Atlantic Ocean, with six survivors initially rescued from the wreckage of the boat. The remaining 70 passengers were rescued after an extensive rescue operation.
According to a member of the Guinea Bassau maritime safety authority, Mario Domingos Gomes, the search for the nine passengers who are not yet accounted for is continuing. Gomes said that a call has been put out to local villagers in the area and along nearby coastlines to ask for their assistance in locating the missing people.
An official investigation into the accident will be conducted over the forthcoming weeks, with the results of the investigation likely to be released in the beginning of 2013. However, initial reports from authorities indicate that overloading of the vessel and unusually high tides and rough waters appear to have contributed to the accident.
Although this is the first major maritime disaster to occur in Guinea-Bissau for many years, a ferry accident in the neighbouring country of Guinea killed 35 people in September this year.