Dhaka: In one of
the worst boat tragedies in recent times in Bangladesh, at least 35
people, including women and children, were killed and over 150 missing
when a ferry packed with nearly 300 passengers capsized in a river today
after a head-on collision with an oil tanker.
"Bodies of 35
people, including four minor children were retrieved so far," a fire
service official told PTI as relatives joined rescuers in search of
The tragedy occurred in the river Meghna in
the Munshiganj district, about 32 kilometres south of Dhaka after the
ferry collided head-on with a tanker carrying oil.
passengers swam ashore or were rescued by nearby fishing boats and two
other launches we fear over 150 passengers are missing," president of
Inland Waterways Passenger Career Association Badiuzzaman Badal told PTI.
workers and Naval divers toiled for hours to bring back to surface the
sunken double-decker ferry to bring out the trapped passengers, 50 of whom
swam to safety.
While media reports identified the boat involved
in the tragedy as passenger ferry 'MV Shariatpur', Shipping Minister
Shahjahan Khan said it was a commercial-cum passenger ferry carrying sand
and chillies bound for Dhaka when it collided with the oil tanker and sank
at about 3 am this morning.
"It is feared that more people are
still trapped in the sunken vessel and salvage vessel is making efforts to
break into the trapped ferry," he said.
"We fear that the death
toll is likely to rise as more bodies are trapped inside," the minister
said while local officials said that a better picture of the casualties
would be known once the sunken vessel is brought to surface.
still prevailed over numbers of passengers involved in the mishap as ferry
operators rarely keep a list of passengers. Most passengers buy tickets
once on board.
Survivors said most of the passengers were asleep
when MV Shariatpur sank while it was coming to Dhaka's Sadarghat Terminal
from Sureshwar of western Shariatpur.
"I saw bodies floating on
the water we salvaged several of them," said an official of another launch
that joined the rescue campaign.
Officials said the exact number
of the passengers could not be confirmed as the launch did not maintain a
register. Most passengers buy tickets once on board. Most of the
passengers were residents of Shariatpur who were travelling to the capital
for work or business purposes.
Three of the missing passengers
were Bangladesh-born US nationals.
"Rescue operations will be
carried out until the launch is retrieved and the bodies were recovered we
will take appropriate steps on receipt of reports of the (three)
investigation committees," the Shipping minister said.
Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) officials said their salvage
vessel Rustom had reached the spot where the sunken launch was lying under
70 feet water in a slanted position.
Another vessel Hamza was on
its way to join the rescue mission.
"The Rustom can retrieve a
sunken vessel weighing as heavy as 60 tonnes but the launch weighed 90
tonnes, so we need another salvage vessel to join us to pull it up,"
Rustom's commander Fazlul Haque told reporters.
Ferry boats are
the main form of travel in river criss-crossed Bangladesh and often ply
overloaded. Thirty-two people were killed in April last year after a
passenger vessel sank in the Meghna river after colliding with a cargo
ship. In 2009, at least 85 people drowned when an overloaded triple-decker
ferry capsized off Bhola Island in southern Bangladesh.