Scores of people have died after a ferry carrying families celebrating the Nowruz holiday capsized in the Tigris river near the Iraqi city of Mosul, according to officials.
Major General Saad Maan, a spokesman for the interior ministry, said at least 71 people were killed in Thursday’s accident. A separate source told Reuters news agency that 72 were confirmed dead.
Another 55 people, including 19 children, were rescued.
“It’s a disaster, no one expected that,” said a young man who had just managed to reached the shore. “There were a lot of people on the boat, especially women and children,” he told AFP.
Al Jazeera’s Natasha Ghoneim, reporting from the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, said footage posted on social media showed “a very distressing picture” at what appeared to be a theme park.
“We are seeing video of what appears to be a ferry upside down … people jumping into the Tigris River in an attempt to rescue others. We can hear people along the banks screaming and we can see several people swimming furiously in what appears to be a rather swift current.”
Hussam Khalil, head of the Civil Defense in the northern Nineveh province, told AP that the vessel had sunk due to a technical problem.
Another security official was quoted as saying by AFP that “the boat sank because there were too many passengers on board, more than a hundred.”
Nowruz, which marks the Kurdish new year and the arrival of spring, is celebrated across territories that once made up the ancient Persian empire, stretching from the Middle East to Central Asia.
The holiday is celebrated as the Persian New Year in Iran.