Workers to raise Bangladesh ferry after 76 die

March 14, 2012 2:15:06 AM PDT
Recovery workers were trying to raise the wreckage of a ferry that capsized on a river in Bangladesh while carrying about 200 people, hoping Wednesday's efforts would reveal the fate of dozens of passengers still missing. The death toll stood at 76.

The ferry collided with a cargo boat and capsized in the darkness of Tuesday morning, sending hundreds of people into the Meghna River, just south of the capital, Dhaka. Local police chief Mohammad Shahabuddin Khan said about 35 survivors were plucked from the water, while local media reported that another 40 managed to swim to shore.

The death toll climbed to 76 by Wednesday afternoon after villagers and rescuers found more bodies inside the ferry and floating in nearby waters, said rescue official Mahfuzul Haque. Divers had recovered 31 bodies inside the sunken vessel the day before, and Wednesday's efforts to move the ferry had shaken more loose.

The dead included a young woman found cradling her baby's lifeless body, police chief Khan said.

"The death toll is likely to rise as more bodies are feared trapped inside," Khan said. "We will get a better picture of the casualties once the sunken ferry is pulled out of the water."

Ferry accidents are common in Bangladesh, a low-lying delta nation of 160 million people. They are often blamed on overcrowding, faulty vessels and lax rules.

Khan said a bigger rescue vessel, MV Hamza, reached the scene Wednesday morning and would work on salvaging the boat. A second ship, MV Rustam, has also joined the rescue fleet. The ferry sank in about 70 feet (21 meters) of water.

By late Wednesday morning, the sunken ferry was pulled up to the water level, and the rescue ships were slowly attempting to tow it to the bank.

Khan could not specify how many people were missing but said many were feared dead. It is difficult to get a reliable estimate for the number of passengers as ferry operators rarely keep a list and most passengers buy tickets once on board.

Some of the bodies inside the sunken ferry were buried under cargo, said Mohammad Alauddin, a diver who was among the searchers.

Hundreds of anxious people, many of them weeping, gathered near the scene of the accident to look for their loved ones. Some of them were angry as they blamed local authorities for slow pace of the rescue operation.

The recovered bodies have been kept in rows on the sandy bank, where volunteers and officials were trying to identify them.

The MV Shariatpur-1 was traveling to Dhaka from neighboring Shariatpur district to the southwest. The accident site is in Munshiganj district, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Dhaka.

Survivor Dulal Dewan described chaos as the ferry and cargo boat collided.

"I was awakened with a big jolt," said the businessman, who had been asleep on the top deck. "I jumped into the river in darkness as the ferry started going down."

"In minutes there were screams all around," he said. "People were shouting for help."

Dewan said he was rescued by a nearby boat, but eight other family members traveling with him were still unaccounted for.