32 dead as launch with 50 passengers sinks near Bangladesh capital

Fire fighters conduct rescue operations after a launch capsized in the Buriganga in Dhaka on Monday while onlookers hamper the rescue work. — New Age photo

At least 32 people were killed and many went missing as a launch with around 50 passengers capsized after a second launch crashed into it in the river Buriganga near Farashganj area in Dhaka on Monday morning.

Among the victims 21 were men, eight women and three children, said Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority officials.

After being hit by a launch of a larger size, the launch capsized within few seconds while many who were reported missing were not found and the capsized launch could not be recovered till 8:00pm, said the BIWTA officials.

Passengers alleged that the number of passengers in the capsized launch could be higher.

State minister for shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury observed that the launch accident in the River Buriganga seemed as if it was a planned murder.

‘I am saying this after watching the CCTV footage,’ he clarified, adding, ‘If the investigation report also finds that the accident was a planned one, appropriate actions will be taken against the responsible people.’

The master (driver) of the launch which hit the capsized launch was absconding, officials confirmed.

During the rescue operation thousands of people went to the spot even by hiring boats amid the fear of coronavirus infection.

A rescue ship of the BIWTA damaged Postogola bridge which caused partial suspension of vehicular movement.

Two committees were formed to probe into the incident.

BIWTA joint director (Sadarghat office) Alamgir Kabir told New Age that at about 9:30am the launch named Morning Bird coming from Munshiganj was taking preparation to anchor at Farashganj terminal under Sadarghat while another launch Mayur-2 on Dhaka-Chandpur route was parked at a dockyard at the opposite side of the terminal.

During accident Mayur 2 moved in reverse gear and hit Morning Bird which was right behind it, he said.

The launch passenger Rifat Rahman, who escaped unharmed but lost his mother and sister at the incident, told New Age that a huge passenger launch hit the two-storied Morning Bird.

‘Within 30-40 seconds our launch flipped over and sunk just in front of the Farashganj Ghat,’ he said while he was identifying bodies of his mother Moyna Begum, 40, and his sister Mukta Akter, 13.

A Fire Service and Civil Defence officer tries to console a man who lost a relative at the launch capsize in the Buriganga in Dhaka on Monday. — Sony Ramany
19 year-old Rifat alleged that the launch was too small where 80-90 passengers packed and the ground floor of the launch was very short in height where none could stand.

A number of the witnesses said that none of the ground floor passengers could save their lives after the accident.

They added that many people who could swim also died in the accident while trying to rescue the injured.

Taking to the relatives it was found that most of the victims hailed from Munshiganj.

Tafura Begum, relative of a dead victim, said that it failed her why the rescuers could not evict the launch when the river was calm.

Relatives of many missing victims were seen in tears in front of Mitford Hospital where bodies were kept before handing over to the relatives.

BIWTA chairman Commodore Golam Sadeq told New Age at 8:00pm that 32 bodies were recovered and were handed over to the families.

He said that after accident 10 to 15 people swam to the shore while the capacity of the capsized launch was 45.

The probability of recovering more bodies was thin, he continued.

The river police already seized another launch, Mayur-2, but the master (driver) of the launch was absconding, he said. The capsized launch was upside down in the river bed under some 50 feet of water, he said.

The recovery drive was hampered due to low light while it would take hours to recover the launch, he said at 8:00pm.

Prattay, a rescue ship of the BIWTA, set off to the accident spot from Narayanganj to rescue the capsized launch.

The ship hit the busy First Bangladesh-China Friendship Bridge between Postogola area in Dhaka and Keraniganj at about 2:00pm while vehicular movement on one of the four lanes of the bridge was suspended from around 6:00pm.

Roads and Highways Department officials said that the damage to the bridge was ‘severe’.

After the accident fire service, Navy, river police and the BIWTA staff were seen continuing the rescue drive using five to six speed boats and two trawlers.

During a visit to the Sadarghat launch terminal, state minister Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said, ‘Families of all the deceased will receive Tk 1.5 lakh as compensation. The ministry has also given Tk 10,000 to each of the bereaved family for funeral.’

He also alleged that the recovery drive was hampered due to overcrowding of people who came to witness the aftermath.

Two committees — one made up of seven members by the shipping ministry and another a four-member committee by the BIWTA — were formed to probe the incident.

President Md Abdul Hamid and prime minister Sheikh Hasina expressed deep shock at the loss of lives in the accident, reports Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha.

Passenger Welfare Association of Bangladesh and Bangladesh Water Transport Workers Federation in two separate statements demanded punishment of the responsible people for the accident.

Mohammad Riyad, who lost his brother Mohammad Shahid, a textile worker, said that his two brothers and one relative were on their way to Dhaka.

His elder brother and the relative swam back to the shore but Shahid was found dead by the rescuers and was holding a baby.

Quoting some survivors, he said that Shahid died as he was trying to save the baby.

According to the Passenger Welfare Association of Bangladesh, in 2019, total 203 waterways accidents occurred, in which 219 were killed, 282 were injured and 375 went missing.

Shahin Akhter and Rashad Ahamad

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