Authorities in Mali say an overcrowded boat carrying hundreds of passengers and goods sank late Friday on the Niger River, leaving at least 20 people dead and about 170 others unaccounted for hours later.
Officials say the boat was traveling northward from Mopti toward the city of Timbuktu when it sank near the town of Konna with an estimated 400 passengers and crew on board. Search efforts were continuing late Saturday.
The Associated Press quotes a Bamako resident and father of a 7-year-old girl who drowned as saying many of the passengers were children returning to northern Mali for the start of the school year. Others were traveling to visit relatives ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Adha, which begins Monday evening.
Large boats carrying hundreds of passengers and cargo routinely ply the Niger river and other key West and Central African waterways. Safety regulations are lax and accidents are common.