Mon, May 24, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Ferry carrying up to 300 sinks in Bangladesh

REUTERS , DHAKA

A ferry carrying up to 300 people sank in a Bangladesh river during a storm yesterday and eight bodies have been recovered so far, police said.

The double-decker MV Lighting Sun was sailing to Dhaka on the Meghna River from the southern Madaripur area when it was swamped by a sudden storm near Chandpur, 170km from the capital.

First reports available from police said eight bodies, including women and children, had been found.

They said villagers and fishermen using motor boats picked up at least 35 people survivors. Another seven were rescued from atop the hull of the upturned ferry, which was floating partly submerged in the river.

Police said a rescue vessel, MV Rustam, left Narayanganj, near Dhaka, on way to Chandpur and was expected to reach there in the afternoon.

"However, it may take longer to arrive at the spot because of rough weather and strong currents in the Meghna," a Narayanganj police officer said.

"The ferry sank in the Meghna's midstream, off the Anandabazar fishing centre, at about 3:30am. The river is very turbulent with strong winds still blowing," said a reporter at the scene.

He quoted a survivor, Liton, saying that the "packed ferry listed on one side and sank minutes after the storm hit."

"I could hear people screaming and chanting 'Allah save us' before I jumped into the water and managed to swim to a nearby char [river island]."

About 400 people were killed and hundreds are unaccounted for after a triple-decker ferry sank in a storm, also in Chandpur district, in July last year.

Impoverished and over-populated Bangladesh has a long history of tragic ferry disasters.

Inland water transport authority officials say about 1,000 people die in ferry accidents in the country every year, but the the number of missing is far more.

Bangladesh is struggling to clean up one of the world's deadliest ferry industries ahead of the annual rainy season next month.

The government has banned night sailing by small ferries and issued warnings to owners of larger vessels not to take on excess cargo and passengers. Listening to weather bulletins is also now mandatory for sailors.

"We are taking extra precautions in the months of May and June -- preceding the rainy season -- when powerful storms often strike," shipping minister Akbar Hossain said in an interview on Friday.

"Safer berths are also being planned at vulnerable sites for sheltering ships during storms," he said.

Low-lying Bangladesh is criss-crossed by thousands of kilometers of waterways that are crucial trade and travel routes for the congested country's 140 million people.

Only a few major bridges provide transport across the several large rivers that bisect the country.

Every wet season, the waterways become menacing torrents and the country is frequently lashed by cyclones that sweep in from the Bay of Bengal.

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