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44 killed in Bangladesh ferry disaster

May 14, 2008

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GHORADIGHA (Bangladesh), May 13: Rescue workers grimly searched a river for survivors on Tuesday after Bangladesh’s latest ferry disaster claimed at least 44 lives, a police official said.

Fire service divers were battling strong currents and other problems to search the M.V. Nazimuddin which sank at a remote spot in the Ghorautra river in the country’s northeast on Monday afternoon.

Around 2,000 people including many distraught relatives of dead or missing passengers had also gathered on the riverbank.

“The death toll is 44 at our last count.

The divers say they believe more dead bodies will be found if the vessel is salvaged,” Kishoreganj district police chief Mizanur Rahman said.

The two-deck ferry, thought to have been carrying about 100 people, was lying in about 10.5 metres of water. Some 50 passengers on board were believed to have swum to safety.

“Many people have gathered on the banks of the river. Many of them are wailing for their dead or missing and coming to us to say their relative is not found,” added Rahman.

He said the divers had arrived in the early hours but were forced to wait until first light to begin their search of the sunken vessel.

“The divers tried to rescue the dead bodies at night by using search lights. But it was very tough for them because of the strong current and darkness and there is no electricity in this area,” he said.

A 100-strong team of fire service divers, army and police personnel was involved in the search operation about 100 kilometres northeast of Dhaka.

Ferry accidents due to poor safety standards and overloading are common in Bangladesh, which is criss-crossed by a network of 230 rivers. It is estimated that more than 3,000 people have lost their lives since 1977.

In the last major ferry accidents, some 110 people died in two separate incidents within days of each other in May 2005. Earlier that year, 150 people were killed in another sinking.

Experts blame the accidents on profit-hungry owners who insist on altering boats and overloading them to maximise capacity.

Boats are frequently stopped from leaving port until they are carrying at least three times the safe number of passengers.

Many boats have also been modified to add extra cabins making them so unstable that they flip over and sink within minutes in even moderate storms.

Successive governments in the graft-ridden country have failed to tackle the problem due to their reluctance to take on powerful vested interests. —AFP