Hundreds missing after ferry sinks

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AS MANY as 300 people are feared dead after an overloaded ferry sank in the Meghna river in southern Bangladesh.

At 11am on Saturday the Dwip Kanya ("Daughter of the Island"), which was fighting through the Meghna's strong currents, capsized during a tropical storm. About 400 passengers were believed to be on board, perhaps twice her legal payload. Kazi Wahiduzzaman, the boat's owner, said she was capable of carrying 250 passengers, but did not elaborate.

Soon after the vessel capsized about 100 passengers swam ashore or were picked up by passing boats. Since then there have been no reports of survivors. In the fierce waters, even the wreckage of the boat has eluded search parties.

"The ferry was overcrowded and was running at speed in a heavy current," said Bazlur Rahman, a survivor of the disaster. "It tilted on one side and sank in midstream, immediately after being caught in a tropical storm."

Another survivor, Jyato Banu, whose two children and sister were swept to their deaths, described how she escaped by breaking a window in the ferry's lower cabin. "After the storm began, about 100 people on the ferry's upper deck were driven into the lower cabin, [which was] already congested with many passengers," the distressed woman in her mid-thirties recounted. "Soon I realised that this was not safe. I broke open a window and told my sister and my children to follow me. But they couldn't make it."

Another survivor, Ashraf Ali, a member of the crew, described how many of the passengers on the top deck managed to hurl themselves into the water and swim to shore before the boat went down. But rescue workers said many of the passengers must have been trapped inside the doomed craft.

At this point, near the estuary, the river is about 14 kilometres wide, and flows so swiftly that wreckage is rapidly carried out into the ocean.

So far only 11 bodies have been recovered. Thousands of relatives of passengers thronged the shore of the river, and many took to boats to help in the search for survivors.

The Dwip Kanya was on a routine trip from Barisal, some 170 kilometres (105 miles) south of Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, to the southern port city of Khulna. Most of the passengers were said by Mr Wahiduzzaman to be industrial workers bound for the factories of Khulna, but eyewitnesses said there were also women and children on board.