Death toll rises to 70 in Bangladesh ferry disaster

Dhaka: The death toll in Bangladesh's ferry disaster today rose to 70 after divers recovered more bodies from the Padma River in which an overcrowded boat with over 150 passengers sank after colliding with a trawler.

"We are formally wrapping up the main rescue operations as the sunken ferry has been salvaged but searches for more bodies will continue for next few days," Deputy Commissioner of Administrative Chief Central Manikganj district Rasheda Ferdous told reporters.

Her comments came hours after 24 bodies were found inside the sunken MV Mostafa after a rescue vessel fitted with cranes pulled the ferry up early this morning - 16 hours after it capsized with more than 150 passengers onboard.

The overloaded ferry sank in the river after a collision with a cargo vessel as it was heading to Paturia from Daulatdia in Rajbari, about 135 km west of the capital Dhaka. Officials said that out of 70 bodies recovered so far 63 were handed over to relatives. The TV footages showed people crowding on the both sides of the river and crying in agonies as they received the inflated bodies of the victims.

Ferdous said the fire service, police and other concerned agencies would keep a vigil on the river in search of more bodies for the next few days as according to relatives at least nine more people were still missing.

A TV channel showed a young married woman in tears as rescuers brought bodies of three members of her family into the terminal with one being her one-month-old baby sister. "They all had their lunch at my home (near the ferry terminal) and then boarded the ferry," she said.

Hours after the ferry sank, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority rescue vessel Rustom joined the salvage last night and retrieved the ferry at early this morning.

A rescue official said the disaster eventually appeared more tragic in terms of toll than it was thought initially "when we had an idea that only few passengers drowned as nearly 100 people were rescued alive".

Officials said they had no idea about the exact number of passengers onboard as operators of private ferries, which also lack safety standards, usually do not maintain formal lists. MV Mostafa is believed to be carrying 140 passengers, but officials said it was carrying nearly 200 people.

Officials said most of the survivors were on the open deck who jumped off the ferry or fell into the water as it was hit but others who were inside the cabins were trapped. Police seized cargo vessel Nargis 1, which ran head on into the side of the ferry causing it to capsize, and arrested its shipmaster Iqbal and his assistant Shahidul.

The government has formed a three-member committee to investigate into the disaster. Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan said the preliminary probe suggests the collision occurred as the boat was "in a race" with other vessels.

Bangladesh has a history of ferry tragedies and this was the second deadly accident within a fortnight in the country. Seven people were killed on February 13 in a similar accident. About 50 people were killed in August last year when a crowded ferry sank in the Munshiganj district.

In March 2012, some 150 people were killed after an overcrowded ferry sank after being hit by an oil barge.

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