This article was reproduced with the kind permission
of the British Broadcasting Corporation
Saturday, 4 May, 2002,
09:28 GMT 10:28 UK
Survivors from a passenger ferry which capsized in Bangladesh with heavy loss of life on Friday night say the vessel was seriously overcrowded.
Hopes are fading for hundreds of people thought to be trapped inside the boat, which now lies under about 20 metres (60 feet) of water in the river Meghna, near the south-eastern port of Chandpur.
River transport authorities said about 150 people were on board the vessel when it sank, but passengers who managed to swim ashore said the total was between 300 and 400.
Up to 70 people escaped from the stricken vessel, which got into trouble shortly before midnight (1800 GMT) on Friday, river authorities said.
Only two bodies have so far been recovered, reports say: a woman and a child.
The two-deck ferry Salahuddin-2 was travelling to the coastal region of Patuakhali from the capital Dhaka when it was struck by a whirlwind - a common phenomenon at this time of year.
The BBC's Alastair Lawson in Dhaka says it is one of the worst ferry accidents in Bangladesh in recent years and - like many other previous ones - could have been avoided.
The boat lacked adequate escape procedures in the event of an emergency and trapped survivors may have died because the nearest rescue boat lacked the proper equipment.
Divers have been trying to reach the ferry, but there is little to be done until a powerful floating crane arrives from the coastal city of Barisal to lift the ferry out of the water.
Only then will the final death toll become apparent.
Those who survived managed to swim ashore or to reach other boats.
Altaf Hossain, a surviving passenger who managed to swim ashore, said four of his family members including his wife and son were still missing.
He said the ferry was first hit by another vessel from the side and then a strong wind overturned it, although this has not been confirmed.
Most Bangladeshi ferries travelling on local routes do not keep passenger lists or issue tickets.
Ferry accidents are very common in Bangladesh, a country criss-crossed by hundreds of rivers.
Friday's disaster occurred near the powerful confluence of three major rivers - the Padma, Meghna and Jamuna - which flow into the Bay of Bengal.
Ferries are a key means of transportation in Bangladesh. Most accidents are blamed on overloading or on unskilled skippers, correspondents say.
Nearly 200 people were killed when a ferry sank in the Meghna river early last year, and there have been many more smaller ferry disasters.