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40 dead in Vietnam river boat accident: official

At least 40 people drowned in a river boat accident in Vietnam when a crowded vessel sank while taking people to a market for lunar New Year shopping, a senior provincial official said.

world Updated: Jan 25, 2009 15:47 IST

At least 40 people drowned in a river boat accident in Vietnam on Sunday when a crowded vessel sank while taking people to a market for lunar New Year shopping, a senior provincial official said.

The wooden boat sank amid strong currents and cold winds 20 metres (65 feet) from shore on the Gianh river in central Quang Binh province when passengers scrambled to get off before it reached the pier, the official said.

"More than 80 people were on the boat," provincial Communist Party chief Luong Ngoc Binh told AFP, adding that the boat was licensed to carry just 20.

"We have recovered 40 bodies and we will continue to search until we have found the last body. About 36 people have been rescued."

At least two or three people remained missing and were feared dead hours after the accident on the river south of Vinh city, he said.

"We have mobilised soldiers, fishermen, anyone who has experience on the river, to join the rescue effort," Binh said by telephone.

"The survivors are now back at home or in local clinics."

The tragedy happened around 8:00 am (0100 GMT) on the eve of the Tet lunar New Year, the biggest annual festival in Vietnam, when extended families reunite for traditional feasts and to pray for good luck in the year ahead.

"The passengers didn't obey the law, and they rushed to shop for Tet, to buy new clothes and goods," said Binh. "That's the reason the accident happened."

He added that "the waves on the river were big, the wind was strong and it was cold, so it was very difficult for people to survive."

"We have used dozens of fishing nets to recover bodies and find the missing, but we are afraid that the two or three people who are still missing are dead already," he told AFP.

Binh said the captain was detained because the boat had been overloaded with passengers. Earlier news reports said the vessel was licensed for 40 to 50 passengers.

Online news site VnExpress identified the detained captain and owner of the boat as 44-year-old Nguyen Xuan Quy.

Binh said that "there were some life buoys on the boat, but the accident happened so quickly that the buoys weren't of any use."