PATURIA: An overcrowded ferry sank in a Bangladesh river on Sunday, leaving at least 41 people including 11 children dead as rescuers searched into the night for missing passengers, officials said.
The ferry collided with a cargo vessel and sank within minutes on the Padma river, the second deadly boat accident in a fortnight in the country, which has a history of ferry tragedies.
“Divers have recovered 41 bodies. The dead included 11 children and seven women,” local police chief Rakibuz Zaman said.
Officials said they did not know the exact number of people missing, but passengers said between 70 to 150 people had been on board, while Zaman said 50 of those “swam ashore or were rescued by other vessels”.
Amid fears for those still missing, search and rescue efforts were continuing into the night, with the aid of floodlights from other ferries on the river, Zaman said.
Rescuers were unloading bodies from small boats some 70 kilometres west of the capital Dhaka at the Paturia ferry terminal, where grieving relatives gathered to identify them.
“We found one body but five are still missing. We were returning home after the opening of a temple,” Hindu holy man Kumud Ranjan Goswami said of his colleagues.
An 18-year-old girl broke down in tears as rescue workers brought the bodies of three members of her family into the terminal — including her one-month-old baby sister.
“They took a meal at my home and then left for home (on the ferry),” the girl who gave her name only as Akhi said of her family’s visit.
“A few hours later they are all gone,” she said, staring at the baby.
Survivors said the MV Mostofa was overcrowded with passengers crammed into the upper and lower decks, leaving them scrambling to find their loved ones when the tragedy struck.
“I was holding my mother’s hand when the cargo boat hit our ferry from behind,” an 18-year-old who gave his name as Al Amin said at the terminal. “Within two minutes the ferry was sunk. Before I realised I was washed away to the middle of the river.
“I swam and a ferry rescued me. But I don’t know what happened to my mom.”
Feared trapped: An official said a salvage vessel was on its way to raise the sunken ferry, adding that the master of the cargo ship and two other crew had been arrested.
The Padma river is one of the largest in the delta nation, and boats are the main form of travel in many of Bangladesh’s remote rural areas, especially in the south and northeast.
Bangladeshi ferries do not normally keep passenger lists, making it difficult to establish how many are missing after an accident.
Local newspaper Prothom Alo quoted one survivor, Hafizur Rahman, as saying the cargo ship hit the boat 15 minutes after departure from Paturia en route across the river causing it to overturn and trapping many passengers. “I was on the deck of the ferry and fell into the river. Those who were on the deck were able to come out but none of the passengers inside could get out,” Rahman told the paper.
Published in Dawn February 23rd , 2015