At least 30 dead after Mali boat sinks in Niger River

Sleeping passengers onboard were awoken by the sound of the boat breaking in half

At least thirty passengers have died and many more are yet to be found after a boat sank in the Niger River in West Africa late on Friday night.

Eye witnesses described the vessel as overloaded with goods and around 400 passengers. It was travelling from Mopti to the northern town of Timbuktu when it broke apart into two pieces at the stern while passengers were alseep on board.

Ibrahim Yattara was on board when he was awoken by the sound of a branch hitting the vessel near the village of Koubi. He believes his pregnant wife is among those still missing.

A representative of the boat company at the scene, Yaya Tikambo, confirmed that 30 bodies had been retrieved from the Niger River.

Commander Dramane Diallo of the rescue services confirmed that there were 210 survivors. He said the reason for the boat overturning was unknown but an investigation is under way.

Local residents say many of the passengers would have been schoolchildren returning to the north for the start of their school year.

The accident is not an isolated case, with two boats sinking within six days of each other in between late September and early October. The accumulated death-toll of those incidents neared 100 people.

Poor infrastructure in the north and the relatively high cost of overland travel means many Malians opt to travel by water. The 4,000km (2,500 miles) long Niger River connects landlocked Mali's arid north with the more fertile south.

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