DHAKA: Two people were confirmed dead and scores more were missing after a boat carrying around 100 passengers sank following a collision on a river in Bangladesh on Friday, the latest in a series of disasters blamed on lax safety standards.
The small vessel was ferrying passengers on the Meghna river, close to the town of Gazaria in the central Munshiganj district, at around 8:00am when it collided with a barge laden with sand to be used for construction.
While some passengers managed to swim to safety as the wooden boat went down rapidly, many others remain unaccounted for, according to officials involved in the rescue effort.
“Two bodies of a woman and a child have been recovered by our divers as the boat has been located,” local fire service official Abdus Shahid told reporters by phone from the scene, adding efforts were being made to retrieve the vessel.
The exact number of people on board was uncertain as passenger lists are often not maintained properly in Bangladesh and many travellers buy tickets on board.
Local police chief Jahangir Hossain told reporters that “so far we have gathered that the ferry was carrying around 100 people. Some 40 people are feared missing.”
Munshiganj’s district administrator Saifuddin Badal said the boat, named MV Sarosh, was carrying passengers from the capital Dhaka to the southeastern district of Chandpur.
“We heard around 25 people have swum ashore,” he told reporters.
Hundreds of distraught relatives gathered on both sides of the river, anxiously waiting to know the fate of their loved ones.
Nasir Hossain, who participated in the rescue operation using his own boat, said that he and others helped pull 13 people out of the water.
“I heard a bang as a sand-laden barge hit the boat in the middle of the river and saw the overcrowded boat sink quickly,” Hossain told local Somoy TV Channel.
Khokon Mollik said he had yet to locate neighbours who were on the ferry, including 17 members of a family who were traveling to a funeral.
“We have found none of them yet,” Mollik said.
A 12-year-old passenger, Omar Faruk, said he couldn’t find his mother.
Shamsuddoha Khandaker, chairman of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), said they were trying to locate the sunken ferry, the ML Sarash.
The private television station Channel-I said local villagers rescued more than 40 people after the accident, and that several other people swam to shore.
The station put the number of passengers at more than 100, though a local police official said it was about 80. Bangladesh has a history of boat disasters as a result of poor safety standards and frequent overloading of vessels. Last March 147 people were killed when a passenger vessel sank in the Meghna river after colliding with a cargo ship.
At least 149 people were killed in the worst boat tragedy in February 2005 when a ferry sank in the Buriganga river on the outskirts of Dhaka.
In December 2009, 46 people, mostly women and children, drowned in the Daira river in the northeastern district of Kishorganj after a ferry capsized and sank.
Ferries are the main form of transport in Bangladesh, a low-lying country that is subject to frequent flooding and where the road network is rudimentary.