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Ferry capsizes on Iraq's Tigris River, killing more than 70

Iraqis celebrating the Nowruz new year drown as disaster strikes boat carrying over its capacity
Iraqi rescuers are seen near the site where an overloaded ferry sank in the Tigris river near Mosul in Iraq (Reuters)

An overloaded ferry sank in Iraq’s Tigris River near Mosul on Thursday killing at least 79 people, according to medical sources.

The majority of victims were women and children who could not swim, Husam Khalil, head of the Civil Defence Authority in Mosul, told the Reuters news agency.

Reuters reported another source in the same authority as saying the ferry was carrying twice its capacity, and capsized as a result.

Interior ministry spokesman Saad Maan told the AFP news agency that 19 children had been killed.

Rescue workers have so far pulled 55 people from the water, Maan said.

Iraq's prime minister decreed three days of national mourning on Thursday as he visited the site of the ferry disaster.

State television said Adel Abdel Mahdi also toured a hospital and morgue, AFP said.

Emergency personnel arrive on March 21, 2019, at the site of a popular picnic area on the Tigris river, after a ferry sank leaving more than 70 people dead in Iraq's worst accident in years.
Emergency personnel arrive on March 21, 2019, at the site of a popular picnic area on the Tigris river, after a ferry sank leaving more than 70 people dead in Iraq's worst accident in years (AFP)

The boat capsized in an area north of Mosul city used for leisure and recreation by local Iraqis.

Many families were congregating to celebrate Nowruz, a new year holiday marked by Iraqi Kurds as well as other communities across the Middle East.

Onlookers, who were only just resuming festivities in the area this year following the defeat of the Islamic State (IS) group, expressed grief at the scene.

"It's a disaster, no one expected that," a young man who had just managed to reach the riverbank told AFP.

"There were a lot of people on the boat, especially women and children."

Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said on Thursday evening that he would be launching a full investigation into the circumstances of the disaster within 24 hours.

"The Prime Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, follows with pain and sadness the incident of the island tourists in the city of Mosul, which killed dozens of innocent people, women, men and children," said a statement by the prime minister's office to Alsumaria news.

People took to social media to express their condolences as well as anger over alleged safety failings: