DAKAR: Twenty-one people died when a boat capsized in a Senegal delta region popular with tourists, firefighters told AFP on Tuesday, adding that the vast majority who lost their lives were women.
The incident occurred on Monday night, with the traditional flat-bottomed boat overturning off Bettenty, an island area just north of The Gambia, with 72 on board.
All except two present were women, said Commander Oumar Kane, a senior firefighting official, who gave an initial death toll of 20 people on Tuesday morning.
"The body of one missing person has been found," Kane told AFP, bringing the toll to 21 dead. Another 51 people had been rescued, he added.
The boat capsized as the women were on their way to look for seafood, he said. The incident occurred in a coastal area well known for delicacies like oysters, where tourists flock in large numbers.
Bettenty is an island area in the Saloum delta where such boats, known as pirogues, are often used for travelling between the mangroves and from one islet to another.
It was not immediately clear what caused the accident, Kane said.
L'Observateur daily said the boat had capsized in high winds, while other newspapers said it had foundered because it was overloaded. Senegalese radio station RFM said some of the women were pregnant.
Meanwhile Senegal's official APS news agency reported that Fisheries Minister Oumar Gueye was en route to the site of the tragedy to present the government's condolences.
Echos of Joola
Several papers recalled the Joola tragedy of 2002 when a ferry sank during a storm, killing more than 1,800 people in what was one of the world's worst-ever maritime disasters.
In that incident, the ferry was licensed to hold just 580 people, including crew, but investigators found it was carrying well over 2,000 when it went down while passing the Gambian coast.
Only 64 people were rescued.
The Bettenty sinking came 12 days after a deadly fire ripped through a Muslim retreat in southeastern Senegal killing around 30 people.
Police are still investigating the cause of the blaze which hit a site visited every year by hundreds and sometimes thousands of pilgrims from the country's powerful Tijaniyya Muslim brotherhood.
Initial reports suggested it may have been caused by a gas canister which exploded while pilgrims were making tea in a straw shelter. Police arrested four people.