23 dead, scores missing in Bangladesh boat sinking

At least 23 people, mostly women and children, drowned and scores of others were missing after a passenger river ferry sank in eastern Bangladesh early on Thursday, police said.

Passengers were asleep on the ferry when it hit the wreck of a cargo ship that sank a few days ago in the river Meghna at Sarail, 90 kilometres (55 miles) from Dhaka, local police officer Abbas Uddin said.

"We have now found 23 bodies," Uddin told AFP by phone from the site of the accident, adding that the death toll would rise as divers continued with the recovery operation.

"There are more bodies trapped in the ferry. The divers are bringing them up now," he said, adding that most of the victims had been women and children.

A team of divers from Dhaka was scouring the river to look for more bodies, as thousands of people crowded the river banks to watch the search effort, he said.

A second team of divers was on their way from the capital, Uddin said.

Brahminbaria district administrator Abdul Mannan said that he expected the toll to rise in the coming hours.

"More will come out. One body was pulled out now while I was talking to you," he told AFP by phone.

At least 60 people on the overloaded double-decker ferry swam to shore, police said, adding that the total number of passengers on the boat was not known.

Boat accidents due to lax safety standards and overloading are common in Bangladesh, which is criss-crossed by 230 rivers.

Some 37 people drowned in December last year when a passenger ferry hit a cargo ship and sank.

At least 85 people drowned in November when an overloaded triple-decker ferry capsized off Bhola Island in the country's south.

A week later another boat sank leaving 46 people dead.

So far this year, dozens of people have been killed in several smaller boat accidents in Bangladesh.

Naval officials have said more than 95 per cent of Bangladesh's hundreds of thousands of small- and medium-sized boats do not meet minimum safety regulations.

But millions of people in Bangladesh rely on boats and ferries to travel to the capital or the delta nation's major cities.

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