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Hundreds Die as Overloaded Bangladesh Ferry Capsizes - 2003-07-09

In Bangladesh, hundreds of people are feared dead after a ferry carrying 700 passengers capsized in the southeast of the country. Rescue operations are slow because rivers are swollen with monsoon rains.

Bangladesh officials say only about 200 passengers managed to swim to safety or were rescued by passing boats.

Most of the passengers aboard the double-deck ferry Nasrin I were sleeping when it sank late Tuesday near Chandpur, about 60 kilometers south of the capital, Dhaka.

Divers and rescue vessels Wednesday were searching for the missing passengers. The boat is thought to have sunk in water more than 60 meters deep and officials fear salvage operations will take time. They say strong currents and tides are hampering rescue work.

Hundreds of relatives of the missing crowded the shores of the river, waiting for information about their loved ones. A large group of students on a holiday trip are believed to be among the victims.

The accident occurred at the confluence of three rivers, where strong currents become more dangerous at this time of the year because of heavy monsoon rains.

The cause of the accident has yet to be determined, but survivors say the ferry began to sink suddenly as it was turning toward a terminal.

A boat scheduled to travel on the same route was cancelled and many of the passengers took seats on the ill-fated ferry. It is thought to have been carrying nearly double its licensed capacity. It was also loaded with a cargo of rice and vegetables.

More than 20,000 small and large ferries ply Bangladesh's rivers, carrying tens of thousands of people every day. But numerous accidents have claimed thousands of lives in recent years.

Prior to Tuesday's accident, 300 people have died this year alone in ferry accidents.

Many accidents in Bangladesh have been blamed on overcrowded boats sailing despite weather warnings. Most of the disasters occur in summer when tropical storms hit or in the monsoon season when rivers flow dangerously high.