Death toll in Bangladesh ferry sinking soars past 100

Bodies on the banks of the river Meghna Relatives and friends of those who died are now going through the painful task of identifying their loved ones

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The number of dead in Tuesday's ferry sinking in Bangladesh has now reached 112, with at least 10 passengers still missing, officials say.

Recovery ships have pulled the ferry close to shore and plan to refloat it.

About 35 people swam to safety after the Shariatpur-1 collided with a small oil tanker in the Meghna River, south-west of the capital, Dhaka.

Ferry accidents are common on Bangladesh's vast river network and scores of people are killed every year.

Officials say more bodies were found after the ship was pulled into shallower waters. More are still thought to be trapped inside.

Hundreds of people, including some desperate relatives, have gathered on the river banks over the last two days during the rescue operation as bodies were extracted.

Laws flouted

"The death toll has now gone up to 112. The ferry has been now been brought to the bank of [the river]. We are continuing with the search operation," Azizul Alam, a senior government official in the district of Munshinganj who is overseeing the rescue operation, told the BBC.

At the scene

A visit to the buzzing Sadarghat ferry terminal in Dhaka gives you an idea about the dangers involved in ferry travel in Bangladesh. Normally, boat owners do not maintain passenger lists and they also sometimes take cargo in passenger ferries.

As travelling by ferries, or launches as they are locally known, is much cheaper than buses, many people prefer them. They are overcrowded and people are packed like sardines during festival times. Many ferries are old and not properly maintained.

On many occasions, I have seen overloaded and overcrowded ferries and boats crossing the mighty Padma and Meghna rivers.

Officials admit that most ferries do not follow any safety standards or regulations.

On my way to the accident site on the Meghna, river traffic was relentless and I was wondering how the many vessels travel at such high speed without colliding into each other, especially in darkness.

Disasters can happen due to natural calamities, technical problems or human error. In Bangladesh, many feel that most ferry accidents could be avoided if the authorities implemented safety measures properly.

The BBC's Ethirajan Anbarasan - who visited the scene of the disaster - says the river is about 4km (2.5 miles) wide with a strong current. The ferry is believed to have sunk in water about 21m (70ft) deep.

Our correspondent says it is not possible to say exactly how many people were on board, because passenger lists are rarely compiled on Bangladeshi ferries and many buy their tickets when on board.

Survivors say more than 200 people were on the ferry, which was going to Dhaka. Hundreds of relatives and onlookers are still awaiting news of their loved ones.

Some of the survivors said more people than usual were on board the ferry - which was also carrying a large cargo of chillies - because transport services to Dhaka were severely disrupted during an opposition rally in the city on Monday.

The ferry was reportedly travelling from Shariatpur district when the collision happened overnight on Monday.

Most ferry accidents in the country are blamed on poor safety standards and overcrowding.

Shahabuddin Milon, deputy head of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Association, told the BBC's Bengali Service that many cargo boats flout the law banning them from night-time travel, endangering passengers.

Last April, at least 23 people died after a ferry carrying more than 100 passengers capsized in the east of the country.

In June 2010, about a dozen people were killed after a packed ferry capsized in a storm in north-east Bangladesh and in November 2009, 118 people died in two ferry accidents within a week.

Boats are the main form of travel in parts of rural Bangladesh - a country that is criss-crossed by rivers and waterways.

The authorities are repeatedly criticised for failing to honour their pledges to tackle lax safety standards.

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