Search and rescue operations were hampered by strong currents Tuesday morning on the Padma River near the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, where a ferry carrying hundreds of people on board, capsized a day earlier.
The ferry reportedly sank in the river in Munshiganj district, about 18 miles southwest of Dhaka, but details about the passengers could not be confirmed. While Associated Press, or AP, which cited authorities, estimated that about 250 to 300 people were on board the M.V. Pinak, local reports said the ferry was carrying at least 450 people on board. At least 44 of them managed to swim ashore to safety, reports said Monday.
According to AP, Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan said that a salvage ship had been sent to the accident site but tall waves were preventing officials from launching the rescue operation. Local residents in speedboats also tried to reach the site, hours after the ferry sank, but had to turn back because of rough weather, the report added.
The Ministry of Shipping has reportedly given a 10-day deadline for an investigation into the latest incident.
Bodies of two passengers have been recovered so far, while many are reportedly feared to be dead in the latest incident that has again raised questions about the safety of the country's ferries, which are prone to overcrowding.
“We have heard that the ferry was overloaded with passengers and the river was rough," Tofazzal Hossain, the officer-in-charge of a local police station, told Agence France-Presse, according to BBC.
Many of the passengers were reportedly on their way back home from ancestral villages after celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the festival that marks the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.
Azizul Haque, 30, one of the survivors who swam ashore said, according to AP: "The ferry went out of control due to winds and currents, tilting from one side to the other," adding: "Then the captain jumped out because he probably understood it was sinking. The river was rough, and there were many passengers on board."
"One woman swam nearly to shore and was picked up by a speedboat," he said. "She was crying, saying she has two daughters. It was panic. Everyone was praying to God."
In May, another ferry, carrying 200 passengers, capsized in the Meghna River near Dhaka, killing at least 50 people.