Eighteen people died and dozens of others were missing after a ferry packed with about 200 passengers capsized in a river in southern Bangladesh today, authorities said.
Local police chief Mohammad Shahabuddin Khan said about 35 people were rescued when the ferry sank on the Meghna River after colliding with a cargo boat early in the morning.
Divers have recovered 18 bodies from inside the sunken vessel, he said, including a young woman found cradling her baby's lifeless body.
“The death toll is likely to rise as more bodies are feared trapped inside,” Mr Khan said. “We will get a better picture of the casualties once the sunken ferry is pulled out of the water.”
Hundreds of anxious people, many of them weeping, gathered near the scene of the accident to look for their loved ones.
The MV Shariatpur-1 was travelling to the capital, Dhaka, from neighbouring Shariatpur district to the south-west. The accident site is in Munshiganj district, about 20 miles (32km) south of Dhaka.
Survivor Dulal Dewan described a scene of chaos as the ferry collided with the other ship.
“I was awakened with a big jolt,” said the businessman, who was asleep on the top deck. “I jumped into the river in darkness as the ferry started going down.
“In minutes there were screams all around. People were shouting for help.”
Mr Dewan said he was rescued by a nearby boat, but eight other family members travelling with him were still unaccounted for.
Estimates varied as to how many people were on board the ferry.
Mr Khan put the number at close to 200, while Mr Dewan told reporters that about 300 people were on board when the double-deck ferry sank.
It is difficult to get a reliable estimate as ferry operators rarely keep a list of passengers. Most passengers buy tickets once on board.
Abdul Gani Akhand, 75, was also among the survivors.
“I was sleeping and I really don't know how I survived,” he said, shivering as a rescue worker ferried him to a hospital.
Azizul Alam, the area's government administrator, said an investigation has been ordered into the cause of the accident.
Mr Alam said rescuers located the ferry in water about 70ft (21m) deep. He said a rescue vessel was trying to pull the sunken boat close to the shore.
Ferry accidents, often blamed on overcrowding, faulty vessels and lax rules, are common in Bangladesh, a low lying delta nation of 160 million people.