Bangladesh rescuers yet to find sunken ferry

Bangladesh navy divers used metal detectors on Friday in a vain effort to locate a river ferry that was sucked into a whirlpool nearly three days ago.

india Updated: Jul 12, 2003 10:51 IST

Bangladesh navy divers used metal detectors on Friday in a vain effort to locate a river ferry that was sucked into a whirlpool nearly three days ago, killing most of the hundreds of people on board.

Rescuers and villagers have so far retrieved nearly 60 bodies from the Meghna river, which flows into the Bay of Bengal through Chandpur, where the ferry sank. More than 300 people are still missing.

Officials said they held little hope of finding more survivors.

"Whatever would be the outcome, we will continue the search at least for two more days," said Abdur Rab Hawlader, administrator of Chandpur district.

He said authorities had called in more navy vessels with "superior equipment" to try to find the triple-decker M.V. Nasreen, which was believed to be under 60 metres (200 feet) of water in the rain-swollen river and could have been dragged downstream by strong currents.

"We are just hoping against hope of finding and salvaging the ferry," said Faizur Rahman Kahndoker, a senior rescue official, as navy divers tried to find the ferry using metal detectors.

"But there is no luck yet," he added. "We are not certain where the vessel is and if it has moved away from the spot of sinking. Fierce underwater currents and the uneven river bed have made it more difficult."

The ferry sank a little before midnight on Tuesday when many passengers were sleeping.

More than 600 people were aboard the vessel, licensed to carry only 300, when it nose-dived into the river near the town of Chandpur, 170 km (106 miles) southeast of the capital Dhaka.

Only about 200 people managed to reach the shore or were rescued by fishing boats, police and witnesses said. Heavy monsoon rains and strong winds have hampered the search.

"We have resumed the search...but there is still no trace of the vessel," navy Lieutenant-Commander Mahbubur Rashid said.

"Even if we can detect the vessel it will be extremely difficult for divers to reach it," added another navy operator.

Among those aboard the ferry were nearly 30 people heading to a wedding party in coastal Bhola district. All but one of the group died.

"I invited my friends and relatives to the wedding but never imagined a dreadful fate awaited them on the way," said college teacher Abdul Matin, the would-be groom.

Hundreds of grieving relatives huddled on the river banks through the night awaiting news of loved ones or to take bodies home.

Officials said the spot where the ferry sank was notorious for accidents. It marks the confluence of three rivers - the Meghna, the Padma and the Dakatia - and the converging currents create a whirlpool effect, especially when the waters are high.

At least 450 people were kled in a similar ferry accident in May last year at almost the same spot.

Ferry disasters occur frequently in Bangladesh, where shipping rules are regularly flouted and marine laws seldom enforced despite huge loss of life every year.

Of the 20,000 ferries plying the many rivers and coastal waters of Bangladesh, only 8,000 are registered and just 800 have fitness certificates, shipping officials say.

The overall flood situation was expected to worsen in the next few days as the heavy rains continued, an official at Dhaka's flood forecasting centre said.

Officials said nearly a quarter of a million villagers were marooned in about 20 of the country's 64 administrative districts, mostly in the north.

First Published: Jul 12, 2003 10:51 IST