In one of the worst boat tragedies in recent times, at least 32 people, including women and children, were killed and nearly 200 missing when a ferry packed with 300 passengers capsized in a river in central Bangladesh on Tuesday after a head-on collision with an oil tanker.

“Divers have recovered 32 bodies from the sunken vessel including five women and three children,” Superintendent of Police Tariqul Islam said.

Rescue workers and Naval divers toiled for hours to bring back to surface the sunken double-decker ferry to bring out the trapped passengers, 50 of whom swam to safety.

While media reports identified the boat involved in the tragedy as passenger ferry m.v. Shariatpur, Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan said it was a commercial-cum-passenger ferry carrying sand and chillies bound for Dhaka’s Sadarghat Terminal from western Shariatpur when it collided with the oil tanker and sank at about 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning.

“It is feared that more people are still trapped in the sunken vessel and salvage vessel is making efforts to break into the trapped ferry,” he said.

“We fear that the death toll is likely to rise as more bodies are trapped inside,” the minister said while local officials said that a better picture of the casualties would be known once the sunken vessel is brought to surface.

The Minister said that action would be taken against the owners of the vessel after investigations.

Confusion still prevailed over numbers of passengers involved in the mishap as ferry operators rarely keep a list of passengers. Most passengers buy tickets once on board.

“Fifty passengers swam ashore or were rescued by nearby fishing boats and two other launches,” president of Inland Waterways Passenger Career Association Badiuzzaman Badal told PTI.

The tragedy occurred in the river Meghna in the Munshiganj district, about 30 km south of Dhaka after the ferry collided head-on with a tanker carrying oil.

Ferry boats are the main form of travel in river criss-crossed Bangladesh and often ply overloaded. The country has witnessed a spate of boat tragedies in recent time, with the worst being in 2009 when 85 people drowned when a ferry capsized off Bhola island in the country’s south.

Relatives of the missing passengers have gathered on the bank of the river.

Survivor Dulal Dewan told reporters that the launch was on its way from Naria of Shariatpur to Dhaka. Mr. Dewan said eight members of his family were still missing.

“My brother-in-law Shamim Fakir and his wife Poly were among them. They were scheduled to leave for Dubai on an 11 a.m. flight,” he was quoted as saying by Bdnews 24.

One shipping official said it was difficult to get a reliable estimate as ferry operators rarely keep a list of passengers. Most passengers buy tickets once on board.

Meanwhile the Shipping Minister announced that Tk 30,000 ($367) will be provided for a victim’s family and Tk 45,000 ($550) for the family with more than one victim.

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