Fifty-one bodies had been recovered by late on Friday from the boat that sank during the night of Monday to Tuesday, and almost 70 are believed to be missing, Nestor Magbado, a spokesman for the governor of the northwestern province of Mongala, told AFP news agency on Saturday.
With no manifest of the passengers on board, the number of those missing is an estimate based on the capacity of the boat, he said.
The vessel was nine traditional wooden canoes, known as pirogues, all tied together, Magbado said.
He added that the accident may have been caused by “overcrowding aggravated by bad weather” during the night.
The scale of the accident was not clear until it was reported by media late on Friday, and confirmed on Saturday by provincial authorities.
Magbado said the Mongala authorities had informed authorities in the DRC’s capital, Kinshasa, of the sinking just after it occurred, but had waited for more information about the number of casualties.
Provincial authorities have declared three days of mourning from Monday.
Boat accidents are common in the vast mineral-rich country because vessels are often overloaded with passengers and cargo. Most of the passengers travelling on vessels also often do not wear life jackets.
At least 60 people died in February after a vessel carrying 700 passengers capsized on the Congo River near the village of Longola Ekoti, in Mai-Ndombe province.
In January, at least three people, two children and one woman, drowned after a passenger boat sank in Lake Kivu.
In May 2020, 10 people, including an eight-year-old girl, died after the leisure boat they were travelling on capsized in Lake Kivu. In July 2010, more than 135 people died after a boat capsized in the western province of Bandundu.