Thirteen people drowned when an overcrowded boat carrying passengers heading for a funeral capsized in central Nigeria, police and locals said on Thursday.
The accident happened around 8:30 pm (1930 GMT) on Wednesday on the Katsina Ala river in the Buruku area of Benue state.
State police spokesman Moses Yamu told reporters: “We have confirmed 13 deaths in the mishap while the rescue is still ongoing.”
Boat capsizes are common in Nigeria due to overcrowding and the lack of maintenance for vessels, particularly during the annual rainy season.
An eye-witness, Jude Nguto, said more than 40 people were on board at the time but concerns that too many people and goods were on the vessel were dismissed, he said.
Not long after setting off, people on the bank heard shouts in the darkness from the middle of the river, whose waters have risen in recent months because of heavy rains, he said.
“Some managed to swim out of the water out of the close to 40 persons on board the (boat) but about 20 are still unaccounted for,” he added.
Police spokesman Yamu said the boat was carrying 18 motorcycles as well as their riders and passengers.
Felix Ikyaajime, from the Benue Motorcycle Association, added: “We lost 17 of our members in the incident, most of the victims were heading for a burial in Buruku when the boat capsized.”
Benue state governor Samuel Ortom called the accident “unfortunate and painful” and said there had been a similar accident at the same spot five years ago when 17 died.
Ortom appealed for federal government funding to construct a bridge.
The Katsina Ala river feeds into the River Benue, one of Nigeria’s two main rivers, that has seen waters rise to near record levels in recent months.
Flooding caused by the rising waters on the Benue and Niger rivers this year claimed the lives of nearly 200 people and made hundreds of thousands homeless in 12 states.
Forty-two people drowned in two separate incidents in the northwestern state of Sokoto in July and August.