At least 37 people died on Friday (December 24) in an overloaded ferry fire on a river in Bangladesh, police said.
« L’Obhijan 10, [composé] of three floors, caught fire in the middle of the river. We recovered thirty-seven bodies. The toll could grow heavier. Most died in the fire and a few drowned after jumping into the river ”local police chief Moinul Islam told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The drama unfolded early in the morning near the town of Jhalokathi, 250 kilometers south of the capital, Dhaka. According to Mr. Islam, the fire would have broken out in the engine room, before spreading in the ferry crowded with people returning from Dhaka. “We sent a hundred people with burns to hospitals in Barisal”, he added.
“Between 500 and 700 passengers” on board
Witnesses said the fire started around 3 a.m. (10 p.m. KST) and quickly spread. “We slept on a mat on the lower deck. All the passengers were asleep. My 9 year old grandson, Nayeem, was with me, he jumped into the river. I don’t know what happened to him ”, said an old lady.
Other passengers say they saw small flames in the engine room as they left Sadarghat port in Dhaka around 9 p.m. Thursday. “Many people ran for shelter when the fire spread. Many passengers could not get out of the cabins where they slept. Many jumped into the river ”, explained another survivor at Barisal University Hospital.
Help arrived on site within an hour of the start of the fire and evacuated the injured to hospitals, said Johar Ali, district administrator. “We spoke to passengers. They say there were between five hundred and seven hundred passengers “, he told AFP.
Series of disasters
“The fire lasted four to five hours before being extinguished. The ferry was completely destroyed, but [les secours] managed to bring him back to shore “, he added. Television showed images of charred two-wheelers and devastated cabins. The shocked survivors and their loved ones huddled on the shore as firefighters and Coast Guard divers scoured the muddy waters for victims.
The accident is the latest in a series of similar disasters in the low-lying country located around a delta formed by many rivers. Millions of people in Bangladesh, a country of 170 million people, depend heavily on ferries for their journey, especially in the southern coastal region. But the ships are insecure. Experts point to the lack of maintenance of ships, lax safety standards and overcrowding of ferries.
In April and May, fifty-four people died in two separate accidents. In August, a collision of a ferry and a freighter carrying sand left at least twenty-one dead on a lake in the east of the country.