At least 36 dead
At least 36 people died and more than 200 others went missing when a packed passenger launch capsized in the river Meghna after colliding with a cargo vessel at Gazaria in Munshiganj yesterday.
The accident happened around 2:30am when a large cargo vessel hit the Dhaka-bound launch, MV Shariatpur-1, at Char Kishori, some 30 km south of the capital.
Hitting the launch, which was carrying more than 250 passengers, the cargo vessel sped away, survivors said, adding that it was a bulky tanker.
Those missing include a photojournalist and his wife and a few expatriate Bangladeshis, police and survivors said.
Rescuers recovered 31 bodies as of 8:00pm yesterday when the first phase of the rescue operation ended. The operation was scheduled to resume at 7:00am today.
Later at about 11:45pm yesterday, locals found five other bodies floating in the river, said Mahfuzul Haque, additional district magistrate of Munshiganj.
Thirty-one bodies were handed over to their families, said Deputy Commissioner Azizul Alam.
Dulal Dewan, a survivor, said the double-decker launch left Naria in Shariatpur with more than 250 passengers for Dhaka around 9:30pm on Monday.
Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) Chairman Shamsuddoha Khandker also put the number between 250 and 300.
The 32-metre launch was built in 1991 and had permission to carry 225 passengers at night, said BIWTA Secretary M Mahbubul Alam.
Divers traced the sunken launch some 70 feet under water, but till last night they were yet to salvage it.
Rescue vessel MV Rustam reached the spot at 8:30am yesterday and the salvage was due to start after the arrival of Hamza, a tug vessel.
BIWTA officials said Hamza was scheduled to arrive at 12:00 midnight today, some 22 hours after the accident.
"Hamza was anchored in Barisal. It is taking time to reach the spot as it is running against the current," said the BIWTA secretary.
The BIWTA chairman said it would take time to lift the 200-tonne launch, as the lifting capacity of MV Rustam and Hamza combined is 120 tonnes.
Meanwhile, the shipping ministry, shipping department and BIWTA formed three committees to probe the accident.
The shipping ministry asked the heads of the committees to submit the reports within five to seven days.
Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan visited the scene in the afternoon and announced a compensation of Tk 30,000 for each dead. Families having more than one victim will get Tk 45,000.
He also claimed that the process of forming the riverine police for ensuring safe travel on waterways was underway.
Dulal Dewan, who managed to reach shore, told The Daily Star that eight of his family members were missing. Of them, his brother-in-law Shamim Fakir and his wife Poly were scheduled to catch an 11:30am flight from Dhaka to the US.
Mamun Chowdhury, a cameraman of Independent television, was in tears as he searched for his brother, Masud Chowdhury, also a senior cameraman at Banglavision.
Masud's wife was also missing, Mamun said.
Immediately after the accident, MV Mitali, another passenger launch, coming from behind rescued around 30 passengers.
On receiving the information, members of Bangladesh Coast Guard, Rapid Action Battalion, police and fire brigade reached the spot and began rescue operations.
“We spotted the launch at Char Kishori at 11:30am,” the BIWTA chairman told this correspondent.
Deputy Speaker Col (retd) Shawkat Ali and local lawmaker M Idris Ali also visited the scene.