Story highlights

WHO says an overloaded barge and a passenger boat collided near rapids

According to survivors, close to 150 people were on board the boat

Local officials say 42 people have been rescued; WHO says three bodies have been found

CNN  — 

Up to 100 people are feared missing after two boats collided on the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the World Health Organization said Saturday.

The collision happened Thursday morning but news of the disaster is only just emerging.

Eugene Kabambi, a WHO spokesman in the country’s capital, Kinshasa, told CNN that the wreck occurred at a resort downstream of the town of Kwamouth, when an overloaded barge en route to Inongo collided with a boat carrying 150 people.

“We are searching for as many as 100 people in the Congo River as well as assisting these people with body bags, medical kit,” said Kabambi.

“One of the boats was totally destroyed and that is the one we believe was carrying the missing.”

Kabambi said his team had been told Friday by the provincial minister of transportation and infrastructure that there were 100 passengers in total and that 42 people had been rescued.

However, WHO believes the number of passengers to be close to 150, based on survivors’ accounts.

A WHO statement released Friday said three bodies had been recovered from the river so far.

No passenger manifest was available so it’s difficult to establish the total number of people on board the privately owned vessel, it said. No one is thought to have been injured on the barge.

The accident is believed to have been caused by powerful currents near the Ngobila rapids.

According to WHO, which was awaiting a delivery of medical supplies and body bags to the area Saturday, overloaded barges and passenger boats frequently sink in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the Congo River and on the country’s lakes. This is usually owing to the age of the vessels and failure to follow rules of navigation.