At least 17 people drowned and over 100 more are feared missing after a launch heading for Shariatpur from Dhaka went down in the Meghna in Munshiganj yesterday, the second launch capsize in two weeks.
The double-decker MV Miraj-4 sank with over 200 people on board around 3:30pm at Doulatpur in Gazaria upazila during a nor'wester.
Officials of the local administration and fire service, quoting locals, said 40-50 passengers had made it to shore alive. Most of them swam ashore with injuries, reports our Munshiganj correspondent.
It is feared the death toll will rise significantly.
Locals started rescue operations immediately after the accident and divers of fire service and civil defence and Bangladesh Coast Guard joined in later on.
Liton, a diver of the coast guard, told a TV channel that he had recovered the body of a child from the sunken launch and “many more bodies were still inside”.
Another diver said, “We will get a clearer picture regarding casualties once the launch is pulled out of the water.”
Navy divers also joined the rescue operations.
Rescue vessel Prattay was at the site since 6:30pm yesterday and as of 2:00am today, it was trying to drag the launch towards the shore.
Sabuj Mia, a passenger who managed to swim to the shore, said the launch got caught up in the nor'wester around 3:15pm and started to lean to one side, eventually capsizing. He said he saw around 20 people swim ashore with him. "I don't know about the fate of others."
Liton, another passenger, managed to reach the shore. His wife Tumpa Begum could not make it. The coast guard recovered her body in the evening and the body of his eight-year-old daughter Sumona's at night. Liton's six-year-old son Mahin is yet to be found.
Liton and his family were going to Sureshwar, Shariatpur.
Hundreds of people including family members of missing passengers thronged the shore near the accident spot. The air was heavy with the wailing of survivors who had lost their loved ones. Some were hoping and praying that their loved ones had survived by a miracle.
The traumatised, bewildered and angry survivors blamed the captain and over-loading of the vessel for the accident.
The identities of nine of the deceased could be confirmed. They are: Jamal Hossain, 50, of Panchagaon in Nariya Upazila of Shariatpur and his son Abir Hossain Sikdar, 28; Tumpa Begum, 30, Setara Begum, 50, Mahi, 4, Sumona, 8, Jalil Malot, 50, Abdullah Al Redwan, 2, and Manik, 14.
Redwan's cousin Khokan told The Daily Star at the accident site early today that five of Redwan's family were travelling to Shariatpur from Dhaka. The remaining four were missing.
This is the second launch accident in two weeks. At least 15 people drowned when a launch carrying over 60 passengers went down in the Golachipa river in Patuakhali during a nor'wester on May 3.
The Department of Shipping yesterday formed a three-member committee, led by engineer and ship surveyor AFM Sirajul Islam, to identify the cause of the accident. The committee is supposed to submit its report to the authorities concerned in seven working days.
Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan, local lawmaker Mrinal Kanti Das and officials of the local administration, BIWTA, police visited the spot to oversee rescue operations.