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32 die in Bangladesh boat capsize tragedy

Catholic official blames ineffective regulatory bodies for the frequent accidents on waterways

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32 die in Bangladesh boat capsize tragedy

Rescuers try to console a man who lost a family member in a boat capsize on the Buriganga River in Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on June 29. (Photo: Piyas Biswas)

At least 32 people died after a boat with more than 50 passengers capsized on the Buriganga River near the Sadarghat riverport area of Bangladeshi capital Dhaka.

Morning Bird, the ill-fated boat, sank after a large passenger ferry, Moyur-2, hit it from the back only minutes before docking on June 29 morning, officials said.

Most of the victims were trapped inside the boat as it sank, while others swam to safety.

Among the dead were 21 men, eight women and three children, said Muhammad Shah Jamal, officer in-charge of South Keraniganj police station in Dhaka.

“Moyur-2 ferry has been held but its driver has fled. We have started a manhunt to arrest him,” he said.

The boat departed from a riverport of neighboring Munshiganj district with mostly rural people traveling to the capital city.

Rescuers from the Fire Service and Civil Defense department pulled out the dead and survivors from the river.

Video: Piyas Biswas

A tragic scene descended on the riverbank as family members and relatives wailed as they searched for their loved ones. The dead were put in body bags and taken to nearby Mitford Hospital for identification.

Brig. Gen. Sazzad Hussain, director general of the Fire Service and Civil Defense, said the cause of the accident is presumed to be carelessness and not overcrowding.

“A probe committee has been formed and we will know the real cause after the probe is complete,” he said.

Waterways provide an easy and cheap mode of transport of passengers and goods in the largely riverine South Asian nation.

Ferry and boat accidents are common due to anomalies and corruption in the water transport sector including poor safety standards, lax rules and issuing of fitness certificates to unfit vessels.  Thousands of people have died in dozens of accidents.

The number of accidents has declined due to a crackdown on substandard vessels in recent years.

Holy Cross Father Liton H. Gomes, secretary of the Catholic bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission, blamed “systematic lapses” for the recurring accidents and loss of lives.

“The regulatory bodies tasked to enforce safety rules are not effective enough. They become active only after accidents happen. On the other hand, water transport vehicle owners are often politically well connected and not only enjoy a monopoly in the sector but also flout rules and get away with impunity over accidents through corrupt means,” Father Gomes said.

“An overhaul of the system is required to put a halt on the march of deaths on waterways.”

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