DHAKA, Dec 24 (PTI): At least 40 people died and over 150 others were injured early Friday after a packed three-storey ferry carrying around 800 passengers caught fire on the Sugandha River in southern Bangladesh, officials said, in the latest maritime tragedy to hit the delta nation criss-crossed by rivers.
The fire broke out around 3:00 am (local time) on Friday in the engine room of the Barguna-bound MV Abhijan-10 launch that started a journey from Dhaka, police and fire service officials said, adding that scores of other passengers were missing.
Officials familiar with the rescue campaign said 40 people were killed in the blaze, including nine being drowned, but some private television channels, quoting officials, reported 41 deaths from the accident in southern Jhalakathi district, 250 kilometres from the capital Dhaka.
“The rescue campaign is still underway, we can update you about the casualties later,” a district administration official told reporters.
The record suggests 310 listed passengers were travelling in the launch (ferry), but we assume the actual number was much higher,” junior minister for shipping Khaled Mahmud Chowdhury told reporters after he visited the accident site.
He said three separate investigations have been launched to find out the background and other details of the predawn accident.
Doctors at the Sher-e-Bangla Medical College Hospital in the neighbouring Barishal district said they were currently treating 70 people while fire service officials said some 50 more were being treated at other health facilities.
Coastguard, fire service and police personnel are spearheading a search campaign covering rivers in three downstream districts. The accident took place at the confluence of rivers as a huge number people crowded on the river banks and hospitals to find their relatives.
“Most of the people were burnt to death or died due to breathing problems due to hot smoke as they were trapped inside the vessel. Many passengers jumped into the river but some of them could not swim ashore or be rescued,” a fire service official said.
Another fire service official earlier said many passengers were asleep as the fire broke out, some died from inhaling smoke, some were burnt to death while some drowned.
Witnesses told reporters that the passenger ferry, called “launch” in Bangladesh, was carrying passengers beyond its capacity and most of them were visiting their homes to spend more time with their families on the extended weekend.
Authorities ordered an investigation to determine the cause of the fire. A seven-member committee has been formed and tasked to submit a report in three days. Rescuers fear the death toll is likely to rise as more passengers have been injured in the pre-dawn fire.
Many passengers jumped into the river in a desperate bid to save their lives as the fire raged for about three hours. Survivors say the launch was packed with passengers, bdnews24.com reported.
Administrative chief of Barguna’s Patharghata sub-district Muhammad Hossainn Mohammad Al Mozahid was one of the passengers of the launch who was travelling in a VIP cabin with his wife.
The fire service control room in a statement said 15 firefighting units led by Barishal Fire Service deputy director Kamal Uddin Bhuiyan rushed to the scene after receiving the information at 3.50 am and brought the blaze under control at 5:20 am.