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Sunken Bangladesh ferry yet to be found

July 12, 2003

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DHAKA, July 11: As only two more dead bodies were recovered from the accident site on Friday the third day after a ferry carrying hundreds of sank in the river here three days ago, as navy personnel using metal detectors were unable to locate the sunken vessel.

Local people and grieving family members believe that hundreds of victims are trapped in the launch and may never be found, say report reaching Dhaka this evening.

Hundreds of relatives crowding the bank of the River Dakatia for the last three days returned home on Friday morning on a ferry, MV Moshiran Khan, which had came to Chandpur on Wednesday from Lalmohon to take back dead bodies. The ferry returned with only two bodies and nearly 200 relatives of the victims.

The two bodies, badly mutilated and beyond identification, were found floating Puran Bazar, far away from the Chandpur launch terminal in the early morning and at around noon on Friday. One more body was recovered from the same area on Thursday night.

Friday rescue operation was limited only searching the surrounding areas of the confluence of three rivers — Padma, Meghna and Dakatia — where the Lalmohon-bound ill-fated MV Nasrin-1 caught up in currents and capsized with over 700 passengers on Tuesday night. The Bangladesh navy vessel Shaibal reached Chandpur at 8:50 this evening and was preparing for rescue operation, the local deputy commissioner said over telephone.

FERRY NOT FOUND: Bangladesh navy divers used metal detectors on Friday in a vain effort to locate a river ferry that was sucked into a whirlpool nearly three days ago, killing most of the hundreds of people on board (agencies add).

“Whatever would be the outcome, we will continue the search at least for two more days,” said Abdur Rab Hawlader, administrator of Chandpur district.

He said authorities had called in more navy vessels with “superior equipment” to try to find the triple-decker M.V. Nasrin-1, which was believed to be under 60 metres of water in the rain-swollen river and could have been dragged downstream by strong currents.

“We are just hoping against hope of finding and salvaging the ferry,” said Faizur Rahman Kahndoker, a senior rescue official, as navy divers tried to find the ferry using metal detectors.

“But there is no luck yet,” he added. “We are not certain where the vessel is and if it has moved away from the spot of sinking. Fierce underwater currents and the uneven river bed have made it more difficult.”

The ferry sank a little before midnight on Tuesday when many passengers were sleeping.

Among them were nearly 30 people going to attend a wedding party in coastal Bhola district, and all but one in the group have been lost.

“I invited my friends and relatives to the wedding but never imagined a dreadful fate awaited them on the way,” said college teacher Abdul Matin, the would-be groom.

Another Bhola resident, Shahjahan Quddus was on the ferry with his daughter Moushumi, and both are missing, feared dead, his relatives said.

“We have resumed the search ... but there is still no trace of the vessel,” navy Lieutenant-Commander Mahbubur Rashid told Reuters.

“Even if we can detect the vessel it would be extremely difficult for divers to reach it,” said another navy operator.

More than 600 people were aboard the vessel, licensed to carry only 300, when it nosedived into the river near the town of Chandpur, 170 km (106 miles) southeast of the capital Dhaka.

Only about 200 people managed to reach the shore or were rescued by fishing boats, police and witnesses said.

Officials and witnesses said so far 45 bodies had been found, most of them swept several miles downstream. More bodies could surface soon along the river’s course to the Bay of Bengal, they said.

Hundreds of grieving relatives huddled on the river banks through the night awaiting news of loved ones or to take bodies home.

Officials said the spot where the ferry sank was notorious for accidents.

It marks the confluence of three rivers — the Meghna, the Padma and the Dakatia — and the converging currents create a whirlpool effect, especially when the waters are high.

At least 450 people were killed in a similar ferry accident in May last year at almost the same spot.

Ferry disasters occur frequently in Bangladesh, where shipping rules are regularly flouted and marine laws seldom enforced despite huge loss of life every year.

Of the 20,000 ferries plying the many rivers and coastal waters of Bangladesh, only 8,000 are registered and just 800 have fitness certificates, shipping officials say. Many ferries operate well past serviceable age and take on passengers two to three times in excess of listed capacity.