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At least 26 people have been killed after a speedboat packed with passengers collided with a vessel transporting sand in the latest maritime disaster to hit Bangladesh.
Police said on Monday the speedboat carrying about 36 passengers from the town of Mawa slammed into the other vessel on the Padma River near the rural town of Shibchar.
“We have so far recovered 26 bodies, including a woman. We have also rescued five injured people, including three children,” police official Amir Hossain said.
Hossain said the bow of the passenger boat was destroyed when the speedboat smashed into the side of the transport vessel and quickly sank.
The speedboat was carrying passengers in violation of government restrictions during a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, said Rahima Khatun, a top government official in the area.
Divers and local people retrieved 26 bodies from the water and were searching for those still missing.
Witness Abdur Rahman said there was a loud noise when the boats collided and the vessels then overturned.
“When we rushed to the spot we found the speedboat torn into two pieces. Hundreds of villagers immediately started conducting rescue work before they were joined by police and the fire brigade,” he said.
Bangladesh is building the country’s largest road and railway bridge near the spot where the accident happened, and police said officers were immediately at the scene.
Construction work has slowed ferry transport on the river, prompting many to make the journey on the less-safe speedboats, which take only about 15 minutes to make the crossing in contrast to up to two hours on ferries.
Khatun said the driver of the speedboat would be investigated as he appeared to have hit the transport vessel, which was moored at the time.
“A probe has been ordered into the accident,” he said.
Maritime accidents are common in Bangladesh, a delta nation crisscrossed by hundreds of rivers.
Authorities blame poor maintenance, lax safety standards at shipyards, and overcrowding for many of the accidents.
Vessels transporting sand sit low in the water and can be hard to see in choppy conditions, particularly when light is poor.
In early April, more than 30 people died when a ferry packed with 50 passengers hurrying home from the central city of Narayanganj ahead of the impending coronavirus lockdown collided with a larger cargo vessel.
In June last year, a ferry sank in the capital Dhaka after it was hit from behind by another ferry, killing at least 32 people.
In February 2015, at least 78 people died when an overcrowded ship collided with a cargo ship.