At least 30 people have died and a dozen missing after a ferry capsized and sank in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka following a collision with another vessel, rescue officials said.
The Morning Bird vessel was hit from behind by another ferry around 9:30am local time (0330 GMT) during the Monday morning rush hour, when the country’s largest port on Buriganga river is packed with vessels.
“We have collected 30 bodies, including 20 males, seven women and three children,” Abul Khair, a diver in the fire brigade, told AFP news agency.
“There were at least 50 people on board… Our rescue divers are still searching,” coastguard spokesman commander Hayet Ibne Siddique said.
The ferry – which departed from central Munshiganj district – sank as it was about to moor at Sadarghat, Dhaka’s main river port used by hundreds of boats to travel to the country’s south.
Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority’s chief, Commodore Golam Sadeqk, told AFP the single-deck ship was “not overcrowded” and sank “due to carelessness”.
He said the vessel had been cleared to carry passengers until September.
Witnesses told local television stations many passengers appeared to be stuck in the ferry’s cabins.
Divers were still pulling bodies from the wreck, in waters some 40-50 feet (12-15 metres) deep. The deceased were put in body-bags before they were laid in rows at the harbour-front.
Another boat would later arrive to lift the damaged vessel from the water, Siddique said.
The ferry went down after colliding with another passenger ferry in the morning, said Golam Sadeq, chief of Bangladesh’s Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA).
BIWTA said there were at least 50 passengers on board, but a survivor told private broadcaster 71 Television that the vessel was carrying at least 100 passengers.
The survivor said he was travelling to Dhaka along with his brother who is still missing. They had set out from his village home in the central district of Munshiganj, 30km (18 miles) south of capital Dhaka.
Relatives gathered at Sadarghat despite coronavirus social distancing concerns to search for their family.
“I still don’t know what happened to them,” a man, searching for his cousin and another relative, told reporters.
Boat accidents are common in Bangladesh, which is crisscrossed by more than 230 rivers.
The South Asian nation is heavily reliant on ferries for transport but has had a poor safety record.
Experts blame badly maintained vessels, lax safety standards at shipyards and overcrowding for many of the accidents.
In February 2015 at least 78 people died when an overcrowded ship collided with a cargo boat in a central Bangladesh river.
The number of accidents has dropped sharply in recent years as authorities crackdown on unseaworthy vessels.