Fri, Jul 11, 2003 - Page 5 News List

More than 500 still missing after ferry sinks near Dhaka

AP , CHANDPUR, BANGLADESH

Rescuers searched choppy waters yesterday for over 500 people missing and feared dead after an overcrowded river ferry sank in southern Bangladesh, but hopes of finding survivors appeared slim.

Hundreds of relatives lined the shore desperate to locate loved ones, while others raised black flags of mourning over their village homes.

Salvage vessels had yet to even locate the triple-decked ferry, the MV Nasreen, which went down on Tuesday night with nearly 750 people aboard.

Rescue officials said only four bodies had been found. Many sleeping passengers were feared to have been trapped inside the ferry when it sank.

"I shall not leave this place until I find my son," cried Khaleda Akthar, a 25-year-old woman who had been on the top deck. She had managed to swim to safety but lost her 5-month-old son, Bacchu.

Akthar had been traveling from the capital, Dhaka, where she works in a garment factory, to her village home in Bhola district when it sank.

"My relatives wanted to see my baby," she said.

The ferry, which had a capacity for only 350 people, sank at the meeting point of three flood-swollen rivers, the Padma, Meghna and Dakatia, in Chandpur, 40km southeast of Dhaka.

Rescue officials said 220 people survived the disaster and about 530 people were missing and feared drowned. But the exact number of passengers was unclear as ferries do not carry passenger lists and many people buy tickets when on board.

Dhaka's largest circulation Ittefaq newspaper reported the ferry was carrying more than 1,000 people.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia expressed shock at the accident and ordered a probe into it.

Hundreds of anxious relatives and survivors lined the shore or joined rescue teams yesterday.

Many started mourning for the loss of loved ones in villages across Bhola, the destination the ferry failed to reach, raising black flags on rooftops.

Two salvage ships were trying to locate the sunken ferry. The ships are equipped with cranes to pull the ferry from the river bed.

Authorities also called in navy divers to help with the salvage work.

"We have not been able to determine where the ferry is. Locating the ferry is our first job before any salvage operation can start," said Abdur Rab Howlader, the area's government administrator.

Swift currents at the meeting point of the rivers and low water visibility were hampering the search, he said.

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