Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia boat sinking: Seven killed and two missing

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Media captionThe moment the Colombia passenger boat sank (Parts of this video have been sped up)

Seven people have died after a passenger boat sank on a reservoir in north-western Colombia, officials say.

They say that 158 people were rescued, but two are still missing after the four-deck Almirante went down near the popular resort town of Guatapé.

There were about 170 people on board. Witness Juan Quiroz told the BBC the boat sank in less than five minutes.

Leisure boats quickly came to the rescue, hauling victims from the water and the top deck of the vessel.

Some survivors complained that they had not been given life jackets.

Army helicopters and divers later joined the search-and-rescue operation.

Eyewitness Louisa Murphy told the BBC: "We saw things flying off the side of the boat. And within, I think, probably about 20 seconds the boat had sort of sunk with just the top deck visible."

One of the survivors, Juliana Barragán, was celebrating her 15th birthday on board with her three aunts.

Two of them are among the dead, and another remains missing.

Her father Jorge Barragán, the victims' brother, told local reporters that Juliana was in shock.

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Image caption Those rescued were traumatised by the ordeal
Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption The search operation continues the hunt for survivors
Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption President Santos arrived in Guatapé to personally assess the situation

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who travelled to the scene on Sunday evening, said the boat had capacity for the numbers on board, ruling out overcrowding as a reason for the accident.

Local residents said that the vessel had sunk before - without people on board - but had then been repaired before being used again.

Representatives from the boat company - Asobarcos - said they will not give any immediate statements and that everything will be resolved by their lawyer, according to El Tiempo newspaper.

Guatapé is a popular Andean resort town, known for its water sports and recreational activities.

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