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Search Continues for Missing Bangladesh Ferry Passengers - 2002-05-05


In Bangladesh, a search operation for scores of people believed to have died when a ferry capsized, is in its second day. But the recovery effort has been slowed by bad weather. Up to 100 people have survived the accident, 10 bodies have been recovered, but a final death toll is not yet available.

Military and civilian divers resumed search operations at first light. But a sudden rainstorm and strong currents in the Meghna River forced them to suspend the recovery efforts for several hours.

The ferry capsized late Friday in similar stormy weather, which is common at this time of the year. The boat had been travelling from the capital, Dhaka, to the town of Patuakhali.

It is not known exactly how many people were on board when disaster struck. River transport officials say there were only 150 passengers, but survivors estimate the ferry was packed with up to 400 people.

Chandpur District Administrator Manzur Elahi says a majority of the passengers are missing and feared drowned.

Hundreds of relatives of people on board crowded the riverbank for a second day, anxiously watching the recovery operations. Search teams have spread over a wide area in the river because rescue workers feel many of the bodies may have been swept away by strong currents.

The final death toll will only be known when the ferry is pulled out of the water. Two state-owned salvage vessels are involved in the operation.

Some survivors have said the ferry went down after tilting to one side in the tropical storm. Officials of the Dhaka weather office say the department had issued a storm warning, but it had apparently been ignored by the ferry crew.

Prime Minister Khalida Zia has appointed a three-member committee to investigate the cause of the accident. Laws penalizing those responsible for ferry disasters have seldom been enforced.

Ferry accidents occur often in Bangladesh. According to official statistics, about 250 ferry accidents in the past 25 years have resulted in more than 2,000 deaths. Most sinkings are blamed on overloading or on locally manufactured boats that do not meet international standards.

Ferry travel is a primary mode of transport for millions of people in the delta nation.

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