Dhaka, Dec 24: A crowded three-storey ferry carrying around 800 passengers caught fire on the Sugandha River in southern Bangladesh early Friday, killing at least 40 people and injuring over 70 others, officials said, in the latest maritime tragedy to hit the country criss-crossed by rivers.
The fire broke out around 3:00 am (local time) on Friday in the engine room of the Barguna-bound MV Abhijan-10 launch that started a journey from Dhaka, police and fire service officials said, adding that scores of other passengers were missing.
Officials familiar with the rescue efforts said 40 people were killed in the blaze, including nine being drowned, but some private television channels, quoting officials, reported 41 deaths from the accident in southern Jhalakathi district, 250 kilometres from the capital Dhaka.
“The rescue campaign is still underway, we can update you about the casualties later,” a district administration official told reporters.
The record suggests 310 listed passengers were travelling in the ferry, but we assume the actual number was much higher,” junior minister for shipping Khaled Mahmud Chowdhury told reporters after he visited the accident site.
He said three separate investigations have been launched to find out the background and other details of the predawn accident.
Doctors at the Sher-e-Bangla Medical College Hospital in the neighbouring Barishal district said they were currently treating 70 people while fire service officials said some 50 more were being treated at other health facilities.
Coastguard, fire service and police personnel are spearheading a search campaign covering rivers in three downstream districts. The accident took place at the confluence of rivers as a huge number people crowded on the river banks and hospitals to find their relatives.
“Most of the people were burnt to death or died due to breathing problems due to hot smoke as they were trapped inside the vessel. Many passengers jumped into the river but some of them could not swim ashore or be rescued,” a fire service official said.