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Nearly 120 feared drowned in Bangladesh ferry disaster

Rescuers in Bangladesh on Tuesday (Aug 5) searched for the wreckage of a heavily overloaded river ferry that sank, with nearly 120 people still missing.

MUNSHIGANJ: Rescuers in Bangladesh searched on Tuesday (Aug 5) for the wreckage of a heavily overloaded river ferry that sank, amid growing anger among relatives of nearly 120 people still missing. The ferry was packed with people returning home from Eid celebrations when it went down in rough conditions around 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of the capital Dhaka on Monday.

Hundreds of distraught relatives have gathered on the river bank for news of the missing, among them Mohammad Sumon, 25, whose younger sister is missing. "I have been waiting here since yesterday, but they have yet to locate the boat let alone try to lift it," Sumon told AFP. "I have given up hope of finding my sister alive, but there would be some consolation in finding her body."

Around 100 survivors were pulled from the waters on Monday (Aug 4), and four bodies have been found. Bangladesh Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan said the search for the sunken vessel had been extended. "My cousin's three daughters were also on the ferry. One of their bodies has been found, two are still missing," Khan told reporters.

Ferry accidents are common in Bangladesh, with overcrowding and poor ship design and maintenance often to blame. Bangladeshi ferries do not maintain passenger logbooks, and it is not known exactly how many people were on board when the ferry sank after being engulfed by large waves.

"The ferry was the smallest of all ferries in this route, with a capacity of only 85 passengers it was heavily overcrowded," said Saiful Hasan, chief administrator of Munshiganj district, where the ship sank. "We have listed 118 passengers as missing based on the claims from the relatives. It appears that the ferry was carrying more than 200 passengers," Hasan told AFP.

Bangladesh, one of Asia's poorest nations, is criss-crossed by more than 230 rivers. Boats are the main form of travel, especially in the southern and northeastern regions. Officials have said more than 95 per cent of Bangladesh's hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized boats do not meet minimum safety regulations.

In May, a passenger ferry thought to be carrying between 150 and 200 people sank in central Bangladesh, killing dozens of people. The exact death toll remains unknown. Around 150 people were killed in the same district in March 2012 after an overcrowded ferry carrying about 200 passengers sank when it was hit by an oil barge in the middle of the night.

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