• Thursday, October 02, 2014

Waiting for the dead

22 bodies found afloat near Mawa, in 4 downstream dists

Wasim Bin Habib, Pankaj Karmakar with Farhana Mirza

Their tears have gone dry. They have lost the strength to wail or search further. But they have kept waiting on the banks of the Padma river at Mawa Ghat to get news of their loved ones who drowned with the ill-fated Pinak-6.

But the rescuers were yet to locate the sunken vessel even three days after the disaster.

Since Tuesday night, the BIWTA, BIWTC, the navy, police, coast guard, fire service and district administration have been conducting an intensive search covering an area of six kilometres, but all to no avail.

Family members and relatives of the missing people were frustrated and angry at what they said was the government's inept handling of the situation. They had given up hope of seeing their loved ones alive, but they wished to get at least the bodies.

This image taken from a video captured by an eyewitness shows a lifebuoy of a passing ferry being thrown into the Padma where people on speedboats were trying to pull passengers of Pinak-6 out of the water moments after it sank. Photo: Video Grab
This is the last photo of the three nieces of Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan. They boarded Pinak-6 minutes later. One of them died and the other two are missing and presumed dead. This selfie was taken on their way to Kawrakandi terminal. Photo: Video Grab

Many of them gave the names of their missing family members to the information centre set up by the district administration at Mawa Ghat yesterday. Some of them provided the centre with photographs of the missing.

Some of them were busy checking the luggage that was fished out of the river, trying to figure out whether any of those belonged to their loved ones.

Briefing reporters around 7:00pm, Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan said a total of 19 bodies had been recovered so far. Of those, eight bodies were handed over to their relatives.

The minister, however, didn't give the identities of the victims or say where the bodies had been found.

But the information centre said 22 bodies had been recovered so far. Of those, two were found on Monday, one on Tuesday and the rest yesterday. Identities of eight victims could be ascertained so far, said officials at the centre.

The body of Fahad, 24, of Jhalakathi was recovered in Bhola on Tuesday.

The bodies of Jannatul Lucky, 20, of Shariatpur, Jamal, 27, of Faridpur, and Mizanur, 35, and Ima Akter, 18, of Madaripur were recovered from Sureshwar of Shariatpur yesterday, while the body of Rita Akter, 25, of Faridpur was found in Chandpur.

Of the 13 unidentified bodies, three were recovered at Mawa, five in Bhola, two each in Barisal and Chandpur, and one each in Shariatpur and Laxmipur, said the centre.

Police confirmed the deaths of two female passengers -- Hasi Begum and Nusrat Jahan Hira -- within an hour of the launch disaster.

At least 137 passengers were still missing, according to officials at the centre.

The double-decker vessel, which was on its way to Mawa from Kewrakandi, was carrying more than 200 passengers against a capacity of 85. It sank in the face of strong waves and high winds in the mighty river near Louhajang around 11:00am on Monday.

Meanwhile, all government agencies concerned held a review meeting at Mawa Ghat in the afternoon. The shipping minister briefed the reporters in the middle of the meeting.

He said a joint intensive search was carried out with side-scan SONAR machines yesterday, and it would continue until the launch was located.

Apart from this, the fire service would continue its efforts to locate the launch, said Shajahan.

The minister said survey vessel Kandari-2, which can locate a sunken launch even if it is covered in silt, would join the operation.

The vessel reached Mawa Ghat from Chittagong at about 12:10am today.

Shajahan said survey vessel Jarip-10 would be used in the operation if Kandari-2 fails to locate the ill-fated launch. Jirap-10 has side-scan SONAR and GPS systems that are used in ocean surveys.

"We are hundred percent sure that the launch will be located and pulled out of the river bed," Shajahan said.

Talking to The Daily Star, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority Chairman Shamsuddoha Khandakar said eight vessels from the BIWTA, coast guard, the navy and fire service are engaged in the intensive search with the involvement of around 200 people.

Asked about the delay in launching the operation, he said, "Initially, we thought we would be able to locate the launch with our existing equipment and manpower. But, as time wore on, we realised that we needed more support." Government high-ups were informed about it, and the operation started on Monday night, said the BIWTA chairman.

"We are trying our best," he said.

However, relatives and family members of the missing were extremely unhappy with the rescue efforts.

"How will we be able to identify the bodies? The authorities could not locate the launch even three days after the disaster. We believe the bodies are stuck in the hull," said Shahidul Islam, whose wife, daughter and niece remained missing.

Shahidul, who was also on board the ill-fated launch, jumped into the river and survived.   

Recalling the horrifying moments, Shahidul said they were inside the hull when the double-decker started going down. His wife Ayesha Akter held his hand when the launch was tilting to the left side.

But her hand slipped from his clutch as the passengers jostled to escape.

He was then pushed towards a window, and he got out of the hull.

Ali Abbas of Narayanganj whose wife and two daughters were missing said, "I want the bodies of my wife and daughters. That will be my consolation. I want to bury them."

Some aggrieved relatives of the victims assaulted several journalists for what they said was misleading people with wrong information. They also hurled brick chips at a makeshift control room of Munshiganj police and a camp of the Red Crescent Society.

Published: 12:07 am Thursday, August 07, 2014

Last modified: 9:45 pm Thursday, August 07, 2014

TAGS: Fire Service Coast Guard Mawa Ghat ill-fated Pinak-6 sunken vessel district administration

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