At least 18 drown in Benin boat accident

COTONOU Mon Dec 17, 2012 7:38am EST

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COTONOU (Reuters) - At least 18 people, most of them children, drowned after the overloaded boat carrying them sank in a river north of Benin's commercial capital Cotonou, officials said on Monday.

The boat was taking passengers across the Héélou River to a market in the town of Togba when it capsized late on Saturday night.

"The boat that capsized had capacity for eight passengers but was transporting 27, their baggage and four motorcycles," the mayor of the nearby Abomey-Calavi district, Patrice Hounsou-Guede, told Reuters.

Benin's Interior Minister Benoit Degla suspended non-motorized traffic on the river pending an investigation into the tragedy.

Boat accidents are common in much of West Africa, where poor road conditions often make river travel the only viable means of transporting goods and passengers. Enforcement of safety regulations is often lax.

Around 20 school children drowned in October when an overloaded ferry sank on the Okpara River in northern Benin.

(Reporting by Samuel Elijah; Writing by Joe Bavier)

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