DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — The death toll from a weekend ferry disaster in central Bangladesh rose to 68 as divers searched for bodies Monday in the latest mishap in the South Asian nation.
Up to 140 passengers were thought to be on the river ferry when it capsized Sunday afternoon after being hit by a cargo vessel.
The accident happened on the Padma River about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Dhaka, the capital. Ferry accidents are common in Bangladesh, which is crisscrossed by more than 130 rivers.
The ferry, the M.L. Mosta, was 6 meters (20 feet) under water, said Inspector Zihad Mia, who is overseeing the rescue operation. On Monday, a salvage ship was engaged to recover the ferry, Mia said.
Rescuers recovered 48 bodies on Sunday, and by Monday morning another 20 bodies had been found, according to a police control room at the scene.
Mia said officials had yet to determine how many passengers were missing. Ferries in Bangladesh usually do not maintain formal passenger lists. We don't have a clear picture about how many were exactly on the ferry when it sank," Mia said. "But I think many have survived."
Jewel Mia, an official from the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority, told reporters at the scene that up to 140 people were on board when the ferry sank.
By Monday morning, police had handed over 50 bodies to their families, said local police chief Mohammaed Rakibuzzman. At least eight were children, he said.
A passenger who survived said many people were trapped inside the ferry when it sank. "The passengers who were on the deck survived, but many who were inside were trapped," Hafizur Rahman Sheikh was quoted as saying by the Prothom Alo newspaper. Sheikh said the cargo vessel hit the middle of the ferry.
A Ministry of Shipping statement said an investigation had been ordered. The Padma is one of the largest rivers in Bangladesh, where overcrowding and poor safety standards are often blamed for ferry disasters.
Last August, a ferry with a capacity of 85 passengers was found to be carrying more than 200 when it capsized on the Padma near Dhaka, leaving more than 100 people dead or missing. The ferry's owner was arrested after weeks in hiding on charges of culpable homicide, unauthorized operation and overloading.
At least five people die earlier this month when a ferry sank in southern Bangladesh.