Sun, Jul 13, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Search for sunken ferry continues, more bodies found

AP , CHANDPUR, BANGLADESH

Rescuers recovered 15 more bodies and a naval ship joined the search yesterday for a sunken ferry that went down in a flood-swollen river in southern Bangladesh, officials said.

The overloaded M V Nasreen sank in the turbulent Meghna River on Tuesday night with about 750 people aboard. Authorities said 220 survived, while more than 500 people were missing and believed dead. The ferry had an official capacity of 350.

The number of bodies recovered as of yesterday rose to 70 after rescuers found 15 badly decomposed bodies overnight a few kilometers downstream from the accident site at Chandpur, about 60km southeast of the capital, Dhaka.

Rescue workers said they have little hope of finding any more survivors.

They said strong currents have carried many bodies downstream. Others were believed trapped inside the unlocated, sunken ferry.

A naval survey ship with radar equipment joined three salvage ships in the search for the ferry, thought to be under 60m of water.

Hundreds of relatives -- many without shelter, food or money -- kept watch by the river bank, desperately waiting for news of the missing. Some hired local fishermen to search for bodies in the river with nets.

"I have been here since Wednesday, looking for my wife and baby son and seven other relatives who were on board," said Mohammad Sadek, a rickshaw puller from Dhaka.

"I rushed here with the little cash I had on me as soon as I heard about the ferry, but now I have run out of money and have not eaten all day," said Sadek.

Local volunteer agencies and the people of Chandpur town scrapped together their resources to feed the victims' families. A volunteer handed Sadek a token for a meal at a nearby soup kitchen.

Official investigators have cited overcrowding or incompetence as possible causes of the disaster, an official said Friday.

Frequent maritime accidents -- often blamed on overloading, faulty construction and disregard for safety -- claim hundreds of lives every year in this delta nation of 130 million people.

The vessel sank in strong currents at the meeting point of three flooded rivers -- the Padma, Meghna and Dakatia.

Heavy monsoon rains have swollen many rivers in Bangladesh, which has been hit by more than two weeks of floods that have killed at least 104 people.

The M V Nasreen was loaded with cargo including rice, iron rods and vegetables.

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