BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) – An overloaded boat carrying about 60 illegal immigrants from Ethiopia capsized in Lake Malawi’s wintry waters, and all aboard are feared drowned, Malawi police said Thursday.
Police spokeswoman Dave Chingwalu said 47 bodies have been recovered and that three suspected Malawian human traffickers had been arrested. The accident happened in the northern Karonga district, 600 kilometers (400 miles) north of Lilongwe, the capital, on Monday night.
Villagers started seeing floating bodies Tuesday morning.
“They pulled out two bodies, then three, then five,” Chingwalu said. “They decided to alert the police on Wednesday and we have so far pulled out 47 people from the lake.”
Â The boat capsized because it was overloaded,” he said. “There were men, women and children and goods as well. We believe more bodies are still in the waters.”
Immigrants from troubled countries further north often cross the borders between Malawi and Tanzania, and between Malawi and Mozambique, trying to reach South Africa, home to Africa’s strongest economy.
Chingwalu said immigrants cross by boat to avoid police road blocks.
Caroline van Buren, the chief U.N. refugee official in Malawi, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the latest fatalities are the highest recorded in recent times.
” Incidents of Ethiopians and Somalis showing up in villages in northern Malawi are not new,” she said. “Sometimes _ after being tipped police are in pursuit after being helped to cross the lake _ the migrants , usually tired, hungry and sick, are dumped on the Malawi side to negotiate their way across Malawi to the Mozambican border, where a fresh set of smugglers help them to cross into Mozambique.”
She said corrupt police officers across the region are paid by smugglers to help or look the other way.
Chingwalu, the Malawi police spokesman, said that after arresting the three Malawian suspects, Malawi police are working with their Tanzanian counterparts to track down Tanzanian human traffickers who may have been involved.