Dhaka: Rescuers retrieved 34 bodies floating on the Meghna River after the overnight capsize of a passenger launch at suburban Munshiganj area as efforts were underway to salvage the sunken vessel, officials said here on Tuesday.
"Bodies of 34 people, including two entire families of five and four members and four minor children were retrieved so far," a fire service official told Gulf News as relatives in small boats joined rescuers in search of their loved ones.
Navy, coastguard and Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) divers are carrying out the rescue campaign while hundreds of grim-faced relatives crowded the both sides of the river bank. Nearly 300 people are said to be missing, but the official number was not available.
"Fifty passengers swam ashore or were rescued by nearby fishing boats... we fear 150 passengers are missing," president of Inland Waterways Passenger Career Association Badiuzzaman Badal told Gulf News.
He said the double-deck MV Shariatpur-1 was coming to Dhaka's Sadarghat terminal from western Shariatpur when it collided with the oil tanker and sank at around 3am yesterday.
"I saw people floating on the water... we [recovered] several of [their bodies]," a crew member of another ferry that joined the rescue operation said.
Officials said fire service divers have so far retrieved seven bodies, while paramilitary coast guard joined the search for the missing people, including minor children. BIWTA officials said a salvage vessel reached the scene and located the ferry 21 metres under water.
"The ferry sank quickly as the oil tanker hit it... at least 30 minor children were travelling in the ferry along with their parents," a survivor told television channels.
Officials said the exact number of passengers could not be confirmed as the ferry did not maintain a register, but most of the passengers were residents of Shariatpur who were coming to Dhaka for work.
Quoting relatives, an official of Shariatpur district administration said three of the missing people were Bangladeshi-born US citizens who were returning home after visiting their village.
Dulal Dewan, a survivor, described a scene of chaos as the ferry collided with the ship.
"I was awakened [by] a big jolt," the businessman, who was asleep on the top deck, said. "I jumped into the river in darkness as the ferry started going down. In minutes, there were screams all around."