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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 May, 2004, 22:11 GMT 23:11 UK
Ferry sinks in Bangladesh storm
A diver conducting rescue operations near the upturned hull of the Lighting Sun
Rescue operations were hampered by strong winds
Up to 200 people are missing, feared dead after a ferry sank in stormy weather in southern Bangladesh.

Some 50 people were rescued or swam to safety. Fifteen bodies have been recovered, including five children.

Survivors recount scenes of panic and screaming as the MV Lighting Sun went down on the Meghna river, about 170km (105 miles) south of Dhaka.

Three other boats sank during the same storm, with one report suggesting up to 40 more people could have died.

Ferry accidents are all too common in Bangladesh, which has a large network of rivers and poor safety standards.

Asleep

The double-decker vessel was en route to Dhaka from the southern Madaripur area when it capsized near Chandpur during a tropical storm at about 0330 Sunday (2130 GMT Saturday).

Someone bring them back to me
Mohamed Rana, 10, whose grandparents are missing
Many passengers were asleep at the time and scrambled to escape.

"I could hear people screaming and chanting 'Allah save us', before | jumped into the water and managed to swim to a nearby char [river island]," one survivor reportedly said.

Police said many others were feared trapped inside the boat.

Seven people were saved when rescuers managed to cut a hole into the upturned hull of the ferry. At least another 33 swam to the shore.

Of the 15 bodies recovered so far, five are those of children.

Passengers stand on an upturned ferry
Several ferries went down in a single day
Others may have managed to swim out through the Lighting Sun's windows and reach safety. However, up to 200 people remain unaccounted for.

Rescue operations were hampered by strong winds and heavy rain. A government rescue vessel only managing to reach the site of the accident some 12 hours after it happened.

Yasmin Begum, 35, wept over the body of her 18-month-old son, Reuters news agency described. Both her husband and his sister were missing.

Another survivor, 10-year-old Mohamed Rana, searched helplessly for his missing grandparents.

"Someone bring them back to me," he said, crying inconsolably, according to the agency.

Another ferry carrying passengers just 1km (half a mile) away is also reported to have sunk.

Reuters says 40 people are missing, six were rescued and two bodies have been recovered from the MV Diganta. However, the AP agency says all those on board survived.

Two ferries also reportedly sank in Manikganj district, 25km northwest of Dhaka. No fatalities were reported.

Bad record

Ferry accidents are common in Bangladesh, which is crisscrossed by rivers and has few roads.

It is also the pre-monsoon season, when fierce storms can blow up quickly.

The stretch of the Meghna river where the Lighting Sun sank is notorious, says the BBC's Roland Buerk in Dhaka.

It is close to the point where it meets another great river, the Padma, causing strong currents, he says.

More than 400 people died last year when a ferry capsized on the same river. Hundreds remain unaccounted for.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Roland Buerk
"Rescuers managed to cut a hole in the upturned hull"



SEE ALSO:
Bangladesh minister holds firm
16 Jul 03  |  South Asia
Bangladesh ferry crash kills many
05 Feb 04  |  South Asia
Ferry disaster claims hundreds
09 Jul 03  |  South Asia
Hopes fade as ferry salvaged
23 Apr 03  |  South Asia
Timeline: Bangladesh
21 May 04  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Bangladesh
26 Mar 04  |  Country profiles


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