200 Missing After Sierra Leone Boat Accident

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FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — More than 200 people, including many schoolchildren returning from holidays, were missing and feared dead Thursday, a day after a wooden boat capsized at sea, authorities said.

Thirty-nine passengers have been rescued so far off the coast of the West African nation, said Naval Lt. Cmdr. Mao Suma, who is in charge of the rescue operation, which will continue at least until Saturday.

Search teams have recovered 16 bodies, Suma said, and 213 people are missing and feared dead.

“We are not expecting any more survivors because of the turbulence of the sea in the area where the accident happened,” Suma said. “The sea is so turbulent and the tide very strong that it is difficult for anyone to swim.”

Earlier, police official Ibrahim Samura said most of the passengers were traveling with young children returning from holidays.

The boat was traveling from the village of Shenge to Tombo, near Freetown, when the accident occurred Wednesday.

“On the day of the accident the sea was rough and it was windy,” Samura said, adding that the boat may have capsized because of overloading, as well. The Teh Teh was carrying at least 268 people and some cargo, too.

The boat has been found afloat, Samura said, and search and rescue operations were continuing in the area.

Sierra Leone is in the middle of its rainy season, with persistent and heavy storms affecting both land and sea.

Boat accidents are common in West Africa, where road systems are poor and many people rely on rickety watercraft to move their wares to market.

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