Only two of the 168 people on board the Gabon-bound giant wooden boat survived the accident.
At least 166 people are feared dead after a boat they were travelling in sank some 40 nautical miles (about 74 km) off the coast of Calabar in Nigeria's Cross River State, National Mirror newspaper reported yesterday, March 20, 2013.
The cause of the accident was not immediately known but sources said the boat might have been overloaded and did not probably comply with basic safety standards.
Eyewitnesses said the passengers were travelling in the giant-size wooden, MV Sonny boat that departed from Oron in Akwa Ibom State on Friday, March 15, 2013 for Gabon when it capsized off Malabo, near Equatorial Guinea. The Assistant Director of Information, Cross River Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, David Akate, confirmed the incident. Reports say the boat was carrying 168 passengers. The Spokesman of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, Y. A. Shuaib, said Nigerian rescuers recovered 9 bodies, Vanguard newspaper reported.
The two known survivors, a young boy and a woman, clung to a gas cylinder before they were found by fishermen. They have been admitted in the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, UCTH, BBC said. A marine transporter at the Calabar Inland Waterways, Ikechukwu Egwu, also confirmed the incident. He said the passengers of the boat were mostly Igbo traders who travelled to Oron to board the wooden boat because it was cheap.
Some 45 corpses were deposited in the morgue of UCTH Calabar yesterday as anxious relatives and friends thronged the hospital to try to identify the remains. The corpses were said to have been deposited in Calabar instead of Malabo where the mishap occurred because the victims are believed to be Nigerians. Other corpses were deposited in Oron where the ill-fated journey began.
The National Emergency Management Agency in a statement said the situation was still hazy as it was not yet clear how many people were onboard the boat. The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, said it was coordinating the rescue efforts, but declined further comments on the incident. Reports say the South-East Nigeria-Gabon sea route is popular for traders moving between West and Central Africa. These trips last for several days in often poor safety conditions, and boat accidents are said to be common.