At least thirty-seven people were killed today when a fire broke out on an overloaded ferry across a river in southern Bangladesh, police said, a tragedy that is often repeated in the impoverished country of South Asia.
The three-decker Obhijan 10 ferry caught fire in the middle of the river early in the morning near the town of Jalokati, 250 kilometers south of the capital Dhaka, police said.
“We have exhumed 37 bodies. The toll of the victims may become even heavier. “Most of the victims died as a result of the fire, some drowned after falling into the river,” the police chief in the area where the accident took place, Mounul Islam, told AFP.
“We treated 100 burn victims at Borisal Hospital,” he added.
According to eyewitnesses, the fire broke out around 03:00 (local time; at 23:00 yesterday, Thursday Greek time) and spread like wildfire.
“We slept under a mat on the lower bridge. All the passengers were asleep. My 9-year-old grandson, Najim, who was with me, fell into the sea. “I do not know what happened,” said a grandmother.
Other passengers said they saw small flames in the engine room as soon as the ferry left a port in Dhaka, around 21:00 yesterday.
“Many people were running in panic to find shelter when the fire spread. Many could not get out of the cabins where they slept. “Many others fell into the river,” said a survivor who was taken to Borisal Hospital.
Rescue crews arrived at the scene within an hour of the blaze and began transporting the injured to hospitals, said Johar Ali, the governor.
“We talked to passengers. “They said there were between 500 and 700 passengers,” he added.
“The fire lasted four to five hours before being extinguished. “The ferry was completely destroyed, but they managed to take it to the shore,” he added.
TV networks broadcast footage of charred motorcycles and damaged cabins.
Shocked survivors and relatives had gathered on the shore as firefighters and port divers searched the murky waters of the river for victims.
Today’s tragedy was added to a series of similar ones in the low-lying country, which stretches around the delta formed by several rivers.
In Bangladesh, with a population of 170 million, much of the population depends on ferries for transportation, especially in the south. But the ships he takes are anything but safe.
Experts point out that the series of tragic events of the species are due to the lack of maintenance of the ships, the overly loose observance of the safety regulations and their overload.
In August, a collision between a ferry and a truck carrying sand killed at least 21 people in a lake in the eastern part of the country. Often, sand trucks are largely underwater, which means they are only slightly visible from other boats, especially at night or when the weather is bad.
The ferry, carrying about sixty passengers, was hit by the steel bow of the truck. Divers had to look for corpses in the muddy waters of the lake.
In April and May, a total of 54 people were killed in two other such accidents.
In June 2020, at least 32 people were killed when two ferries collided in Dhaka.
Tragedies due to fires are also frequent in Bangladesh.
In July, 52 people were killed at a food factory in a Dhaka suburb.
More than 70 people lost their lives in February 2019 when flames engulfed apartments in Dhaka where chemicals were illegally stored.