37 Dead as Bangladesh Boat Sinks

AFP – Rescuers searched for survivors after an overcrowded boat carrying around 150 people capsized on a river in northeastern Bangladesh leaving at least 37 dead, all of them women and children.

Local police chief Jane Alam said most passengers were asleep as the boat rammed a cargo vessel and sank Saturday night in the middle of the river Surma at Alipur, 240 kilometres (160 miles) northeast of the capital Dhaka.

Police found five more bodies after a fresh search inside the salvaged boat early Sunday morning, bringing the toll to 37, Alam told AFP from the scene.

“Of the 37 dead, 17 are women and 20 children. Most of the male adults have swum ashore and gone back to their villages,” Alam said.

Police said officers and local government officials had launched a search operation for more victims Sunday, as hundreds of people crowded the river banks desperate for news of their relatives.

“We are searching miles downstream as some bodies may have washed by currents. Shipping ministry divers have been brought from the capital and are scouring the river,” he said.

Police said that interviews with relatives suggested that only a small number of people were still missing.

Fishing boats had rescued many survivors from the cold water, and both the passenger boat and the cargo vessel had been pulled to the river bank.

Local government administrator Mohammad Abul Hashem said initial investigations suggested overcrowding and poor visibility on the river were to blame for the accident.

“It appears that boat was overloaded. People were crammed on its deck,” he said.

The disaster happened in one of the most remote areas of Bangladesh, accessible only by river.

Boat accidents due to lax safety standards and overloading are common in Bangladesh, which is criss-crossed by 230 rivers.

At least 85 people drowned in November last year when an overloaded triple-decker ferry capsized off Bhola Island in the country’s south.

A week later another boat sank in the same part of the northeast as Saturday’s accident, leaving 46 people dead.

So far this year, dozens of people have been killed in several boat accidents in Bangladesh.

Naval officials have said more than 95 percent of Bangladesh’s hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized boats do not meet minimum safety regulations.

Around 20 million people in Bangladesh rely on boats and ferries to travel to the capital or the delta nation’s major cities.

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