The boat left central Niger state and was heading to northwest Kebbi state when it split and sank, local officials say.

Boat capsizes are common on Nigerian waterways mostly due to overcrowding and lack of maintenance.
Boat capsizes are common on Nigerian waterways mostly due to overcrowding and lack of maintenance. (Reuters Archive)

More than 150 people dead in northwest Nigeria after an overloaded boat ferrying around 160 passengers sank in the Niger River, a local official said.

The boat left central Niger state and was heading to northwest Kebbi state when it split and sank on Wednesday, Abdullahi Buhari Wara, administrative head of Ngaski district said.

"The boat capacity was not up to the 180 passengers it carried," National Inland Waterways Authority local manager Yusuf Birma told reporters.  

"As we speak, only 20 people have been rescued alive, four dead confirmed while the remaining 156 people are still missing and they are believed to be underwater."

READ MORE: Dozens dead, several missing in Nigeria boat accident

Overloaded vessel

Wara blamed the Kebbi accident on overloading as the boat was meant to ferry not more than 80 passengers.

The vessel was also loaded with bags of sand from a gold mine, the official said.

One survivor, Buhari Abubakar, said about 40 people have been rescued so far, though many of the other passengers, mostly women and children, are still missing.

Five bodies were recovered as of Wednesday evening, though local people expect more to wash up in the coming days, said Qasimu Umar Wara, a Wara resident.

"The boat was overloaded, he said. "My brother is among those missing. This is the worst boat accident that has happened in this water."

Many of the passengers were returning from a newly-discovered gold vein in Niger, he said.

"They usually go there in the evenings and return to Wara in the morning," he said. "Most of them are petty traders, food vendors and the local miners."

Common boat accidents 

Boat capsizes are common on Nigerian waterways mostly due to overcrowding and lack of maintenance, particularly in the annual rainy season.

Early this month 30 people drowned when an overloaded boat capsized in central Niger state.

The boat ferrying 100 local traders split into two after hitting a stump during a storm as they were returning from a local market, according to emergency officials.

Source: AFP