Dozens feared dead in Burma after overcrowded ferry sinks off Myanmar coast, police say

Fears that death toll could be much higher as number of tickets sold is 'not reliable' says merchant

More than 20 people are confirmed dead after a ferry sank off the coast of Burma but as the search for survivors continues, many fear the authorities don’t even know how many people to look for.

At least 21 people have died, while twenty seven remain missing after the ferry sank in bad weather on a voyage from the coastal town of Taunggok to Sittwe, capital of the west coast state of Rakhine, officials told Reuters.

The Ministry of Information said that the government-owned Aung Tagun-3 had been swamped by waves but that 167 of the 209 passenger had been pulled from the water to safety.

Officially, there were 209 people on board when it set off on Friday and there are 47 missing, of which about 30 are women. But a merchant from Taunggok claimed that the actual number would be considerably higher as the route is often crowded with unregistered passengers.

"Normally, the number of tickets sold is not reliable  when it comes to the number of passengers. That's very common," the merchant, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

"So the number of missing must be many more than 27. We understand the chances of finding them in this weather are very slim," he added.

Boat accidents due to overcrowding and bad weather are common in Burma's river deltas and coastal regions. People rely on boat transport because of the lower cost and inaccessibility of many areas by road.

At least ten people were killed the Pathein Thu sank in the Irrawaddy Delta in March 2012, Associated Press reported.

The country is also known as Myanmar but Britain is among several Western countries that refuse to acknowledge the name, given by its military government in 1989, because of human rights abuses.

It's one of Asia's poorest nations and was ruled by a military junta that suppressed any opposition until 2011 after the first general election in 20 years. The largely unspoilt country is now opening up to visitors but after so many years of military rule, social progress is slow. 

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