An overnight ferry caught fire in Bangladesh causing a tragedy that killed many people and has sent many others to the hospital with burns as the authorities continue to search the burnt-out hulk of the ferry and the river. Latest reports indicate that as many as 40 bodies have been recovered with at least 100 more injured and many people unaccounted for, but authorities do not know how many people were aboard the vessel at the time of the tragedy.

Water transportation is a common means of travel in the improvised South Asian nation. Authorities are reporting that the ferry, the Expedition-10, was licensed to carry a maximum of 420 people, but reports are saying there could have been as many as 700 or even 1,000 people overcrowded on the ferry. The three-level ferry departed the capital city of Dhaka operating an overnight run on the Sugandha River to Barguna. 

The local fire services received reports of the fire at 3:30 a.m. with the ferry ablaze mid-river. Fifteen units of the fire service, along with the police and coast guard, responded to the ferry but by some accounts, it took them up to 45 minutes to reach the remote location on the river. Their efforts were also hampered by dense fog on the river. 

Passengers reported that they had been sleeping when the alarm was raised aboard the ferry. Many of them jumped into the river in an attempt to escape the inferno. One survivor told a local news outlet that there were curtains on the windows of the ferry that were trapping the smoke inside. Photos released this morning show the entire ferry gutted and smoldering alongside the river bank.

The fire service reported that it took two hours to control the fire. They spent an additional eight hours cooling the charred wreck before a search could begin. Helicopters also joined the search of the river and its banks for possible survivors while boats and divers began retrieving many bodies of people who mostly drowned escaping the inferno.

The country’s prime minister and State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury issued statements expressing condolences and hoping for the recovery of the many victims in the hospitals. The Ministry of Shipping immediately formed a seven-member committee to investigate the fire, including members from the police, fire service, and district administration. The committee has been asked to submit a report to the ministry within the next three working days.

The origins of the fire are as of yet unknown although speculation is centering on the possibility that the fire started in the engine room of the vessel. Local media reports are blaming poor maintenance and lax safety standards as contributors to the tragedy. Ferries operating in Bangladesh have a poor safety record. In April and May, two separate accidents killed passengers and in August at least 21 people were killed when a small ferry collided with another vessel and capsized.

Source: The Maritime Executive