The strong current of the Padma flows over a steel drum. Locals anchored the drum and a buoy to mark the spot where many earlier suspected Pinak-6 had come to rest under water. Photo: Star
Pinak-6 is apparently lost forever. After an eight-day search, the rescuers yesterday packed up and left, disappointing families of the missing.
Declaring the search operation abandoned, Saiful Hasan Badal, deputy commissioner of Munshiganj, told reporters, "We have done everything we could but we could not find the sunken launch.
"We think there is no further scope for continuing the search operation. We have decided to call off the operation considering all aspects, including bad weather," said the DC at press briefing at Mawa Rest House around 11:00pm.
He said scouring the surrounding districts would continue for the victims who the authorities now assume dead. Police forces in all downstream districts and the coast guard have been asked to be on the lookout for bodies, he said.
At least 62 people are still missing. The number of the missing was fixed based on relatives' claims before the information centre set up by the district administration at Mawa.
Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan told BBC Bangla service that they had abandoned the search since there was no chance of finding identifiable bodies. “We are calling it off. If we pull it [the launch] out now, there might be some bodies inside but they would not be identifiable,” he said.
He said the purpose of the salvage operations was to provide the families with the bodies of their loved ones but that situation has changed.
The bodies that would have been recovered would be severely decomposed. “Those would not be identifiable and it would be very painful,” he said.
At Pachchar school playground on the other side of the river where bodies of the victims were brought in, there was anger and sadness as the search operation was called off.
Jharna Begum, mother of missing eighth grader Lipi Begum, was in denial, “This cannot be … they cannot call off the search before finding all the bodies.”
Kazi Humayun Kabir, who lost his mother, sister-in-law and a nephew in the disaster, said it was utterly disappointing that the government abandoned the search.
Both demanded that the bodies of their loved ones are returned to them.
DC Saiful said the river was rough and there was a 5.6 knot (10.4kmph) current. The Met office asked maritime ports to hoist signal-3 due to bad weather, which was one of the reasons to call off the operation, he said.
The survey vessels Kandari-2 and Jarip-10, which concentrated their operation only on one spot where they claimed to have found a "metallic object" could not ascertain anything.
Asked about it, the DC said Chittagong port authorities that carried out the operation there could not say for sure whether the object was Pinak-6.
Commander Monjurul Karim Chowdhury, in charge of Kandari-2, was also unsure, Saiful said.
Locals who started searching for the vessel themselves since Sunday could not find anything. They too claimed to have detected an object around a kilometre away from where the vessel was videotaped going down on August 4.
"Earlier, a ship of fire service could not find anything there despite an intensive search," Saiful said.
Contacted, Mohammad Hasan, chief of the operation carried out under “Meghna Chain Koppa and Cycle Mart”, said water was about 100 feet deep at the spot.
"Our divers went down but they could not go more than 30 feet as their oxygen masks came loose in the fierce current," he told The Daily Star.
He, however, said given an opportunities, he and his men would search for the vessel one more time.
Local traders and shop owners at Mawa were disappointed with the government efforts. They said they had seen on TV how ships were salvaged from deep seas in other countries but the government could not even locate a launch in a river.
"They [the government] claimed that they used ultramodern technology to look for the vessel and claimed that they found something. So then why abandon the operation," said a restaurant owner at Mawa.
The double-decker vessel, which was on its way to Mawa from Kawrakandi, was carrying more than 200 passengers against a capacity of 85. It sank in choppy waters and strong winds in the mighty river around 11:00am on August 4.
According to the official calculations, bodies of 45, including 15 children and 15 women, have been found so far.
Of the recovered bodies, 27 were identified and handed over to the family members. The rest 18 still remain unidentified and buried at Shibchar Municipal graveyard in Madaripur.
Meanwhile, the decomposed body of a woman assumed to be in her mid 20's was discovered in the Meghna at Ramgati of Laxmipur around 8:00pm. The corps is believed to be of a victim of the Pinak-6 disaster.
Our staff correspondent Pankaj Karmakar, Munshiganj correspondent Farhana Mirza and Madaripur correspondent Nityananda Halder contributed to this report.