Capsized ferry righted in Bangladesh; 58 dead

AP News
Posted: Nov 29, 2009 9:27 AM

A rescue ship righted a capsized ferry on Sunday, easing the work of those searching the submerged cabins for scores believed trapped inside more than a day after the boat sank in southern Bangladesh. So far, 58 people have been confirmed dead, authorities said.

The M.V. Coco was packed with hundreds of travelers leaving Dhaka to head home for the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha when it went down late Friday. It started to take on water as it arrived at Nazirhat town in the coastal district of Bhola, 64 miles (104 kilometers) south of the capital.

Gas torches were used to cut open submerged cabins, and local residents joined divers to search for survivors inside the ferry in the Tetulia River. Operations picked up Sunday _ more than 36 hours after the accident _ when a rescue ship used iron ropes to right the submerged ferry, exposing more than a dozen bodies inside its water-filled hull, local police official Mohammad Mahmud said.

The recovery took the total number of dead to 58 _ most of them women and children _ before the search was suspended for the night, Mahmud said.

Authorities said there were no passenger lists, so it was unclear how many people were aboard the vessel, but Dhaka's private ETV television station said it could have been carrying more than 1,500 people. Officials would not say how many remained unaccounted for; Dhaka's mass circulation Prothom Alo daily said it could be 50. The boat was approved to carry 1,000 people.

Hundreds of anxious relatives massed on the sandy river bank and searched for their missing loved ones over the weekend.

Some complained that rescue work was slow as officials were on holiday for Saturday's Eid celebration.

"The ferry sank just before midnight Friday, but rescuers did not arrive until the morning," said survivor Sohel Hossain.

On Sunday evening, the anger bubbled over, and some people who had been waiting for hours for their news of the missing briefly threw stones at rescuers, Monaj Kumar Sohag, a local journalist said from the scene. No one was hurt from the protest, he said.

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Some survivors said the boat hit a shoal as it approached the dock in Nazirhat, splitting the hull. As passengers scrambled to abandon the vessel, it tipped and partially sank.

"As I saw water in the lower deck, I jumped through the window and swam ashore," Shahidul Islam, a survivor, said Saturday. "Many passengers were frightened after seeing water in the lower deck and started rushing out, causing the boat to tilt on one side."

Ferries are a key mode of transport in the delta nation of 150 million people. Accidents blamed on lax rules, overcrowding and faulty boats are common.