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Bangladesh: More Than 100 Drown in Capsized Ferry - 2002-05-04

In Bangladesh, more than a 100 people are believed to have drowned after a passenger ferry capsized. Rescue operations are under way, and officials say at least 70 people have been pulled to safety.

Disaster struck the ferry when it was just two-hours into its journey from the capital, Dhaka, to the coastal region of Patuakhali.

Officials said the ferry was in deep water in the Meghna River when it was hit by a tropical storm at midnight, and sank in high winds and strong currents. The Meghna River is an important inland waterway, heavily used by ferries.

Some passengers managed to swim ashore, some were rescued by passing boats. Others have been helped out of the river by rescue workers. Local fishermen have joined efforts to reach survivors. Hundreds of relatives have gathered on the riverbank.

A government salvage veseel has arrived at the site of the disaster, and divers are trying to reach the ferry to search for the missing passengers. But officials said hopes of finding more survivors are fading.

River transport authorities said there was total darkness when the accident occurred, and there are fears that many passengers may have been swept away by the strong currents on the river.

Officials said they will only be able to reach an exact death toll when the ferry is pulled from the bottom of the river. They said it is unlikely that the boat will be salvaged until Sunday. There are fears it could be one of the worst ferry disasters in recent years.

There are conflicting accounts of how many people were on the ferry at the time of the disaster. Officials say there were 150 people, but some of the survivors have estimated that there were at least three to 400 passengers on board when the accident occurred.

Ferries travelling on local routes in Bangladesh do not keep passenger lists, and are often overcrowded.

River transport is a popular and cheap form of transport in Bangladesh, a flat, delta region with many rivers. Ferry disasters occur often, usually when tropical storms hit the country at this time of the year.

There are allegations that the boats have poor safety standards, with ferry owners often ignoring storm warnings and maximum-capacity regulations.

Nearly 200 people were killed when a ferry sank early last year, also in the Meghana River.