More than 200 people were missing and feared dead Thursday, one day after a crowded ferry capsized off the coast of Sierra Leone, authorities said.
The wooden Teh Teh, believed to be carrying at least 260 people, including scores of children and their parents returning from holidays, capsized in a heavy storm late Tuesday some 185 km of the capital, Freetown.
Thirty-nine passengers have been rescued so far off, said Naval Lt. Cmdr. Mao Suma, who is in charge of rescue operations.
Suma said search teams have recovered 16 bodies 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 told The Associated Press. "The sea is so turbulent and the tide very strong that it is difficult for anyone to swim."
Suma said the ferry was found afloat and search and rescue operations would continue in the area until at least Saturday.
The Transport Ministry said the official list of 241 passengers on board the ferry counted only those who with cargo and excluded the number of school children. The total number of passengers may exceed 300, the ministry said.
The ferry was traveling from the village of Shenge to Tombo, near Freetown, when it capsized, authorities said. Hundreds of relatives of the passengers rushed to Tombo seeking news of survivors.
No official explanation has been given for the accident, the worst since a boat full of refugees capsized in 2002. But police official Ibrahim Samura said the ferry may have capsized because of overcrowding.
West Africa is in the middle of its annual rainy season and sudden, heavy storms occur frequently. The storms have already caused extensive flooding and some deaths throughout the region, including in Senegal and Burkina Faso.
(Xinhua News Agency September 11, 2009)