Death toll rises to at least 70 in Bangladesh ferry disaster

AP News
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Posted: Feb 23, 2015 8:26 AM
Death toll rises to at least 70 in Bangladesh ferry disaster

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — The death toll from a weekend ferry disaster in central Bangladesh rose to 70 on Monday, as divers finished their search after the vessel was lifted to the surface and towed to shore.

A local government administrator, Rasheda Ferdousi, said the area of the river around the accident site was still being monitored because some passengers were still missing. He did not give an exact number.

"Our people are using boats to survey the river for any dead bodies. But here at the scene we are calling off the search as there are no more bodies inside the ferry," Ferdousi said.

Up to 140 passengers were thought to be on the ferry when it capsized Sunday afternoon after being hit by a cargo vessel in the Padma River, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Dhaka. The river is one of Bangladesh's largest.

Ferry accidents are common in the South Asian nation, which is crisscrossed by more than 130 rivers.

A salvage ship pulled the ferry, the M.L. Mosta, to the surface from about 6 meters (20 feet) of water.

Rescuers recovered 48 bodies on Sunday and another 22 on Monday, according to police.

Inspector Zihad Mia, who was overseeing the rescue operation, said it was not known how many passengers were missing and how many survived. Ferries in Bangladesh usually do not have formal passenger lists.

"We don't have a clear picture about how many were exactly on the ferry when it sank," Mia said.

Jewel Mia, an official from the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority, told reporters that up to 140 people were thought to be on the ferry when it sank.

A passenger who survived said many people were inside the vessel when it sank. "The passengers who were on the deck survived, but many who were inside were trapped," Hafizur Rahman Sheikh was quoted as saying by the Prothom Alo newspaper.

Sheikh said the cargo vessel hit the middle of the ferry.

The Ministry of Shipping said it has ordered an investigation.

Ferry disasters in Bangladesh are often attributed to overcrowding and poor safety standards.

Last August, a ferry with an official capacity of 85 passengers was carrying more than 200 when it capsized on the Padma River near Dhaka, leaving more than 100 people dead or missing. The ferry's owner was arrested on charges of culpable homicide, unauthorized operation and overloading.