A ferry with more than 200 passengers on board sank Thursday in a river in Bangladesh, killing at least 22 people while rescue divers were pressed into action to look for survivors.
The ferry, M.V. Miraj-4, reportedly was caught in high winds and rain while navigating the Meghna river, near the capital Dhaka, before capsizing. Among the 22 bodies recovered so far by the rescue teams, one is of a five-year-old while about 40 people reportedly swam ashore to safety. Rescue ships Protto and Durbar reportedly left Munshiganj in Dhaka to begin search operations while efforts were being made to pull the ferry back to shore.
"We fear there will be more bodies inside the vessel and we cannot be sure of the number of passengers (on board)," Saiful Hassan Badal, deputy commissioner of Munshiganj district, told Reuters, adding: "Instead of recovering bodies from inside of wreckage, now we're focused on pulling the ferry (to the river bank). We'll get a clearer picture once the ferry is pulled out."
The accident occurred Thursday about 3:30 p.m. local time (5:30 a.m. EDT), and a majority of the passengers on board the double-decker ferry were reportedly city workers and students on their way home for the weekend. According to a BBC report, Badal estimated that the vessel may have been carrying up to 350 people but could not be certain of the actual total.
Abdur Rahman, 50, who swam ashore, reportedly said that passengers had asked the captain and the ferry's crew to pull into the shelter of the river bank when the storm began but the request was ignored.
"There was a sudden storm and we requested the boatswain to anchor at the riverside but he ignored us ... the ferry capsized within a few seconds," Rahman said, according to Reuters.
Bangladesh has a long history of ferry disasters, with overcrowded boats and a lack of safety standards including insufficient lifeboats, which compound the dangers of navigating the nation's rivers, which have led to casualty numbers adding up to hundreds over the years.