Nearly 60 killed in ferry accident

November 29, 2009 6:34:37 AM PST
A rescue ship righted a capsized ferry on Sunday, easing the work of those searching the submerged cabins for scores believed trapped inside more than a day after the boat sank in southern Bangladesh. So far, 58 people have been confirmed dead, authorities said. The M.V. Coco was packed with hundreds of travelers leaving Dhaka to head home for the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha when it went down late Friday. It started to take on water as it arrived at Nazirhat town in the coastal district of Bhola, 64 miles (104 kilometers) south of the capital.

Authorities said there were no passenger lists, so it was unclear how many people were aboard the vessel, but Dhaka's private ETV television station said it could have been carrying more than 1,500 people. Officials would not say how many remained unaccounted for, but ATN television said it was as many as 80. The boat was approved to carry 1,000 people.

Some survivors said the boat hit a shoal as it approached the dock in Nazirhat, splitting the hull. As passengers scrambled to abandon the vessel, it tipped and partially sank in the Tetulia River.

"As I saw water in the lower deck, I jumped through the window and swam ashore," Shahidul Islam, a survivor, said Saturday. "Many passengers were frightened after seeing water in the lower deck and started rushing out, causing the boat to tilt on one side."

On Sunday, more than 36 hours after the ferry capsized, a rescue ship used iron ropes to right the submerged ferry, exposing more than a dozen bodies inside its water-filled hull, local police official Mohammad Mahmud said.

The search was continuing into the evening Sunday, and the death toll had climbed to 58, Mahmud said.

Gas torches were used to cut open submerged cabins, and local residents joined divers to search for survivors inside the ferry. Police and fire brigade divers pulled 37 bodies from the sunken part of the vessel before darkness halted rescue work for the night on Saturday, said Saiful Islam and Showkat Hossain, local police officials supervising the effort. Many of the dead were women and children.

Police said they were waiting for a rescue vessel coming from the southern city of Barisal to pull the submerged ferry from the water, but it was unclear whether it would be able to reach the shore because of the shallow water near the bank.

"The picture about the death toll will be clear once the ferry is salvaged," Islam said.

Hundreds of anxious relatives massed on the sandy river bank and searched for their missing loved ones.

Some complained that rescue work was slow as officials were on holiday for Saturday's Eid celebration.

"The ferry sank just before midnight Friday, but rescuers did not arrive until the morning," said survivor Sohel Hossain.

Ferries are a key mode of transport in the delta nation of 150 million people. Accidents blamed on lax rules, overcrowding and faulty boats are common.


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