updated 3/24/2006 9:01:47 AM ET 2006-03-24T14:01:47

Fishermen searched the seas off Cameroon Thursday for 127 people feared dead after a ferry sank.

The boat was bound for the central African nation of Gabon from a town in Nigeria near Cameroon’s border. First word of the accident came when fishermen found bodies floating Wednesday off the port town of Kribi, said a top regional official, Gregoire Mvombo.

He cited survivors as saying 150 people from Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast were onboard, and 23 people were rescued. The cause of the accident was not immediately known.

Mvombo said rescue workers in the area had enlisted local fishermen in the search Thursday, but the 127 missing passengers were feared dead.

Unsafe ships
Many ferry masters in Africa pack passengers aboard old or poorly maintained ships. In a vast continent with poor road or rail systems, river or ocean routes are used to transport goods to market. Few ferries keep proper passenger manifests.

Some 1,863 died when the MS Joola capsized off the coast of Senegal on Sept. 26, 2002, a more deadly accident than the Titanic. Only about 60 people survived.

Deaths at sea also have resulted from a recent upsurge in African migrants fleeing poverty and joblessness to try to reach Europe by boat from Mauritania, a west African nation thousands of miles north of Cameroon.

More than 1,000 Africans have died over the past four months alone while trying to sail in small wooden boats from Mauritania to Spain’s faraway Canary Islands, according to Mauritania’s Red Crescent branch.

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