At least 39 killed in fire on Bangladesh ferry

Published on Dec 25, 2021 04:06 AM IST

The fire is believed to have originated in the engine room, officials are investigating the cause of the blaze

It took 15 fire engines two hours to control the fire and another eight to cool down the vessel.(Reuters)
It took 15 fire engines two hours to control the fire and another eight to cool down the vessel.(Reuters)
Agencies | , Dhaka

A massive fire swept through a crowded river ferry in Bangladesh in the early hours of Friday, leaving at least 39 people dead and 70 injured, officials said. Many passengers leapt from the vessel into cold waters to escape the blaze.

The latest maritime tragedy to hit the impoverished low-lying nation saw a fire burn through the three-storey vessel in the early hours while passengers slept on board.

It took 15 fire engines two hours to control the fire and another eight to cool down the vessel, according to fire officer Kamal Uddin Bhuiyan, who led the rescue operation.

Afterwards, the blackened hull of the ferry sat anchored at the river’s edge.

As light broke, rescue workers combed through the still-smoking and charred remains of the vessel, removing dead bodies wrapped in white plastic as distraught relatives waited on the muddy riverbank for news.

The blaze broke out around 3am on the MV Avijan-10, which was carrying 800 passengers, many of whom were travelling to visit family and friends for the weekend, officials said.

“I was sleeping on the deck and woke up hearing screams and a loud noise,” survivor Anisur Rahman told reporters, adding that he saw smoke coming from the back of the ferry. “I jumped into the freezing water of the river in the thick fog, like many other passengers, and swam to the riverbank.”

“I have just found the body of my mother in law. She jumped in the river and died of drowning. I don’t know what happened to my wife and children,” said Mohammad Russell from the riverbank.

“I searched the hospital. My wife and children weren’t there. I hope they survived by jumping into the river. Oh, Allah, save them,” he told AFP.

Police officer Moinul Haque said rescuers recovered 37 bodies from the river, while two people died from burn injures on the way to the hospital. All of the 70 injured were hospitalised, including some with severe burns.

Ferries are a leading means of transportation in Bangladesh, which is crisscrossed by about 130 rivers, and accidents involving the vessels are common, often blamed on overcrowding or lax safety rules.

The ferry was travelling from Dhaka, the capital, to Barguna, about 250km to the south. It caught fire off the coast of Jhalokati district on the Sugandha River, toward the end of the journey.

Bhuiyan said the fire may have started in the engine room. The government set up two committees to investigate the blaze and ordered them to report their findings in three days.

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