Dozens of people are missing after an overloaded fishing boat carrying migrants sank off the coast of Bangladesh, officials said.

Police said at least 24 people were missing on Thursday after a boat heading to Malaysia capsized in the Bay of Bengal after hitting strong waves.

"The coast guard and police are continuing their rescue operation," local police chief Masud Alam said.

Estimates varied on the total number of passengers. The private television station Somoy said 100 had been on board when it sank, while passengers said 60 people were aboard.

Emergency workers said they had rescued 32 Bangladeshis near the island of Kutubdia.

Bangladesh, a delta nation of 156 million people, has a history of boating disasters as a result of lax safety standards and frequent overloading of vessels.

Naval officials say more than 95 percent of Bangladesh's hundreds of  thousands of small and medium-sized boats do not meet minimum safety regulations.

Thousands of poor Bangladeshis and ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar try to migrate to Malaysia every year on a perilous and sometimes fatal 3,200-km journey.

Rights groups say thousands have perished along the way, while thousands more have fallen into the hands of people-traffickers.

Source: Agencies