31 Dead, Dozens Missing in Bangladesh Ferry Crash

A ferry packed with about 200 people collided with a cargo boat and capsized in a Bangladeshi river Tuesday, killing 31 people and leaving dozens more missing.

The dead included a young woman found cradling her baby’s lifeless body, local police chief Mohammad Shahabuddin Khan said.

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

About 35 people were rescued after the ferry sank early in the morning on the Meghna River, just south of the capital, Dhaka. Divers have recovered 31 bodies from inside the sunken ferry, Khan said.

He could not specify how many more were missing but said many of the missing were feared dead.

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.

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.

Khan said the number of people still missing was close to 200, while Dewan told reporters about 300 people were on board when the double-deck ferry sank. It is difficult to get a reliable estimate as ferry operators rarely keep a list of passengers and most buy tickets once on board.

Another survivor, Abdul Gani Akhand, was shivering as a rescue worker escorted him to a hospital. “I was sleeping and I really don’t know how I survived,” he said.

An investigation has been ordered into the cause of the accident, said Azizul Alam, the area’s government administrator.

The ferry sank in water about 70 feet (21 meters) deep and a rescue vessel was trying to pull it close to the shore, he said.

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