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At least 40 dead in Vietnam river boat accident

world Updated: Jan 26, 2009 11:03 IST

At least 40 people, mostly women and children, drowned in Vietnam on Sunday when a heavily crowded river boat sank while taking people to a market for lunar New Year shopping, officials said.

The wooden boat overturned amid strong currents and chilly winds 20 metres from shore on the Gianh river in central Quang Binh province when passengers scrambled to get off as it approached the pier, they 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."

Thirty-two females, including two pregnant women, were among the bodies recovered from the river about 500 kilometres south of the capital Hanoi, said the Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper in an online report.

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

Hundreds of bereaved relatives crowded the rocky river banks after the accident, crying as volunteers carried off bodies using hammocks and nets suspended from shoulder poles, online news images showed.

The tragedy happened around 8:00 am (0630 IST) on the eve of the Tet lunar New Year, Vietnam's biggest annual festival, when extended families reunite for traditional feasts and to pray for good luck in the year ahead.