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Death Toll in Bangladesh Ferry Accident Still Uncertain - 2002-05-11


In Bangladesh, the death toll in last week's ferry disaster is expected to rise to more than 450. The state-run BSS news agency says 369 bodies have been found, and about 100 people are missing. It is one of the country's worst ferry accidents.

More than a week after a ferry capsized in the Meghna River during a fierce tropical storm, authorities are still trying to determine how many people died in the accident.

Scores of passengers are missing. Survivors have said the ferry, which had a capacity of 310, was carrying double that number. Salvage operators and officials say they believe many of the bodies were swept away by strong river currents and will never be found.

The exact toll may never be known, because most ferry operators do not keep passenger lists.

But authorities admit the May 3 accident was one of the country's worst ferry disasters. Bangladesh's biggest ferry accident occurred in 1986 when about 600 people died in an overcrowded boat, also on the Meghna River.

Since the latest accident, authorities have said they are trying to identify an action plan to prevent similar disasters.

Shipping minister, Akbar Hossain says he is asking the navy to spot check vessels to prevent overcrowding. But navigation officials have said it is uncertain when this will be implemented.

Meanwhile, authorities have been advising people not to travel on overcrowded ferries, and to avoid using ferries during rough weather. Tropical storms occur frequently at this time of the year.

Officials have said the ferry involved in the latest accident ignored a storm warning issued by the Dhaka weather office.

Ferries are a popular and cheap mode of transport in Bangladesh, which is criss-crossed by several rivers. But the system has been plagued by mishaps - more than 2,000 people have died in about 250 ferry accidents during the past 25 years in Bangladesh.

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