Massive search operations continued for the second day on Saturday for the missing passengers of an overcrowded three-storey ferry carrying around 800 people that caught fire on the Sugandha River in southern Bangladesh, killing at least 41 people and injuring over 150 others.
The fire broke out around 3:00 am (local time) on Friday in the engine room of the Barguna-bound MV Abhijan-10 launch that started a journey from Dhaka. Scores of passengers went missing in the mishap, police and fire service officials said.
“Coastguard, fire service officials and police are still looking for bodies as we are unsure about the exact number of the missing passengers,” a district administration official told reporters in Jhalakathi district in southern coastlines.
Hundreds of people crowded the river bank and joined the rescuers in engine-run boats to look for their missing relatives, officials said.
”The record suggests 310 listed passengers were travelling in the ferry, but we assume the actual number was much higher,” junior minister for shipping Khaled Mahmud Chowdhury told reporters after he visited the accident site on Friday.
Fire service officials earlier said most of the victims were burnt to death or died inhaling hot smokes as they were trapped inside the vessel, while many passengers jumped into the river but some of them could not swim ashore or be rescued.
Officials said most of the dead passengers were assumed to be residents of Barguna where 37 bodies were sent for burial but relatives could identify only 14 of them.
“We have handed 14 bodies to relatives after mass funeral (in line with Muslim rituals)…the rests were buried under official arrangement as nobody could identify them,” Barguna’s deputy commissioner Habibur Rahman told reporters.
He said doctors have, however, kept the DNA specimen of the unidentified bodies so that the relatives might identify them in future.
A seven-member committee comprising inland water transport regulating authorities, fire service personnel and police have been formed to determine the cause of the fire. The panel has been asked to submit the report in three days.
The accident was the latest in a number of similar incidents in Bangladesh, a small country criss-crossed by a network of some 230 rivers of different sizes and shapes.
These watercourses cover nearly 7 per cent of the total area of the country.
An overloaded speedboat allegedly driven by an inexperienced underage boy capsized in Bangladesh after a collision with a sand laden vessel in May this year, killing at least 26 people.
In June last year, a ferry carrying over 100 passengers capsized in the Buriganga river in Bangladesh after it was hit from behind by another ferry, killing at least 32 people. In February 2015, at least 78 people died when an overcrowded ship collided with a cargo vessel.