An overcrowded river ferry in Bangladesh capsized Sunday after colliding with a cargo vessel, killing at least 43 people in the latest in a string of disasters on the country’s waterways this year.
At least 20 people were still missing late Sunday night after the crash, and a crowd gathered on the shore of the Padma River west of Dhaka, the capital, to watch as rescue vessels combed the water in search of bodies and survivors.
Bangladeshi government sources told VICE News the collision occurred because the two vessels did not provide enough space to pass each other on the river. The incident is the seventh crash this year on Bangladeshi waterways.
The crash Sunday occurred near the Paturia ferry dock in Bangladesh’s Manikganj district, about 70 kilometers west of Dhaka. At around 12pm, the ferry ML Mostofa-3 boarded a large group of passengers that arrived on buses.
“Some passengers who survived say that the total number of passengers on the ferry was between 250 to 300 people,” Shahjahan Biswas, a resident of Manikganj, told VICE News. “But the ferry and bus staff claim that the number is not more than 150 to 200.”
The 50-ton ferry reportedly had a capacity for carrying roughly 100 to 120 passengers. Once it began its journey, the ferry was hit by the Dhaka-bound cargo vessel MV Nargis-1.
As the ferry capsized, some passengers on the top deck managed to swim ashore. The people inside — including many women and children — were less fortunate.
Locals and boats from the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation are still continuing to search the river for survivors, according to local authorities.
Rashida Ferdous, the deputy commissioner of Manikganj district, told VICE News that 43 bodies have been recovered so far, including eight children and 15 women. At least 20 ferry passengers are still unaccounted for.
“We have determined the location of the collision and capsize,” Ferdous said. “We will continue the operation until we can pull the vessel up.”
The local government provided 20,000 Bangladeshi takas ($257) as a “burial fee” to the families of at least 15 victims. The shipping minister of Bangladesh, Shahjahan Khan, expressed his condolences to the bereaved families and committed another 105,000 takas ($1,350) to the families of each person who died in the disaster.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered a thorough investigation into the incident and formed a five-member committee, including shipping experts, to lead the inquiry.
The disaster is the seventh such incident in Bangladesh this year.
On February 13, the trawler FV Fatima sank in an estuary of the Payra River near Barguna district with 200 on board. Seven bodies were recovered after the crash and one person is still missing. Local rescuers said the trawler was overloaded and only had the capacity to carry 80 passengers.
On February 7, a trawler carrying around 50 passengers sank in the Shitalakhya River after it was hit by a cargo trawler near the Narayanganj district on the outskirts of Dhaka. Ten passengers were injured and two children are still missing.
Another accident on the Shitalakhya River occurred January 23 when two trawlers capsized after a head-on collision. Two passengers, including a young girl, died. Ten people are still missing.
Three passengers, including a young boy, were killed an several others were injured on January 13 when two vessels collided on the Meghna River. The two other inland waterway accidents were not deadly and involved cargo vessels that collided with each other.
A 2014 study conducted by Bangladesh’s National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads, and Railway Sectors revealed that at least 4,621 people were killed and 977 others went missing in nearly 600 inland waterway accidents from 1999 to 2013.
According to the study, more than 25,000 passengers that commute annually on Bangladesh’s rivers are at risk due to chronic overloading, faulty vessels, unskilled crew members, and a variety of other factors.
Bangladesh’s Inland Waterway Transport Authority has blamed the accidents on the indifference of launch owners who want to gain more profit. Officials have also said they’re unable to adequately monitor vessels and passenger boarding procedures because they lack manpower.