Relatives mourn a young girl killed in the ferry accident. (Picture by Shahadat Hosen)
At least 125 people were missing and presumed dead Tuesday after an overloaded ferry with more than 200 passengers capsized on Monday while crossing a river in central Bangladesh.
The ferry MV Pinak-6 sank in the Padma River in Munshiganj district, about 44 kms from Dhaka.
Rescuers managed to save about 100 people following the sinking in rough waters and strong currents.
Only two bodies were recovered as of Tuesday morning.
Local media reported the ferry was carrying 250 passengers but officials at Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) could not confirm the figure as ferry operators in Bangladesh rarely keep passenger lists.
“The ferry was allowed 85 people but was carrying at least three times that number,” said Abdus Salam, administrative director at Fire Service and Civil Defense department.
“It tilted over and sank as it reached middle of the river when strong currents hit and panicking people started moving from one side to the other,” he said.
Rescuers failed to locate the position of the sunken ferry until Tuesday morning due to bad weather.
Thousands of anxious relatives gathered on the riverbank soon after the accident. Aminul Islam, 32 said his elder brother Hafizul and his family were on the doomed ferry.
“My brother along with his wife and two sons were returning home from the Eid holidays. I don’t know what could have happened to them,” Aminul said.
The government has launched an investigation into the accident.
Munshiganj district administration has allocated 20,000 taka (US$ 256) for the funerals of victims, while the Shipping Ministry said the families of each dead passenger would receive 105,000 taka.
Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan, who visited the scene, came under fire from both the press and relatives of the victims.
Asked by journalists how a ferry was allowed to carry so many passengers, Khan said, “Ferry operators have had strict instructions not to overload, but they ignore the regulations.”
He said action would be taken against the ferry owner once the investigation is completed.
Bangladesh is crisscrossed by more than 300 rivers, which empty into Bay of Bengal. Waterways provide a cheap transport option for low-income people.
However, the country has an appalling record of ferry accidents due to lax rules, poor safety standards and overcrowding.
According to BIWTA, about 11,000 people have been killed in ferry accidents in the last 40 years.