DHAKA // The death toll in a ferry accident in central Bangladesh soared to 69 on Monday, after emergency workers recovered more bodies from the wreckage of an overcrowded boat that sank after colliding with a cargo vessel.
Authorities said “several” people were still unaccounted for after the ferry sank within two minutes of the collision on Sunday, making it impossible for passengers below deck to escape.
It is the second deadly boat accident in a fortnight in Bangladesh, which is heavily reliant on ferries for transport but has a poor safety record.
“This morning the bodies were found in the boat after it was raised and dragged to the shore,” police inspector Abdul Muktadir said after a salvage vessel raised the sunken ferry from the water.
“The death toll is now 69,” he said. Government administrator Rashida Ferdous said most of the estimated 150 people on board had been accounted for.
Those who were on the upper deck were able to swim away or were rescued by other boats.
“Almost all those died were helplessly trapped inside the lower deck after the boat sank,” Mr Ferdous said.
Rescuers worked through the night to recover bodies after the collision on the Padma river around 70 kilometres west of the capital Dhaka.
Hundreds of people including relatives of the missing thronged the shore on Monday morning as rescuers searched inside the salvaged vessel and brought out the bodies.
Ahad Ali cried loudly as Red Crescent volunteers unzipped one of the white body bags to reveal his brother Mohammad Sharif.
“My brother ... was heading to village after hearing our father has suffered a brain stroke,” Ali wept.
“He was on the upper deck, but fate took him to the lower deck for lunch. He was a good swimmer but could not escape the gushing water trapping him inside.”
Nearby, Kazi Anisur Rahman was scouring the bodies as he searched for a missing friend.
“He is not among them. I spent the last 20 hours at the terminal looking at all the bodies,” said an exhausted Rahman.
The government has ordered an investigation into the accident. Shipping minister Shahjahan Khan said the ferry had been “in a race” with the cargo vessel.
Survivors said the MV Mostofa was overcrowded with passengers.
“I was holding my mother’s hand when the cargo boat hit our ferry from behind,” said Al Amin, 18, at the terminal.
“Within two minutes the ferry was sunk ... I swam and a ferry rescued me. But I don’t know what happened to my mum.”
Three people have been arrested, including the driver of the cargo vessel. The captain of the sunken vessel is still missing.
This month, at least five people were killed when an overloaded ferry carrying some 200 passengers capsized in an estuary in the south of the country.
* Agence France-Presse