Vol. 5 Num 263 Tue. February 22, 2005  
Front Page

Buriganga Launch Capsize
Death toll reaches 120

At least 120 people drowned and several others were missing as a passenger launch caught in a sudden storm capsized in the Buriganga river at Munshikhola in Pagla of Narayanganj on Saturday night.

One hundred-eighteen bodies were recovered from the launch -- MV Maharaj -- which sank with more than 200 passengers and was salvaged yesterday.

Around 60 passengers swam ashore or were rescued and others were still to be traced.

Those killed in the worst launch disaster this year included 84 men, 25 women and nine children. Sixteen of them could not be identified.

Bodies of three Ansar members were also recovered with four rifles and 160 bullets.

Police handed over nearly 100 bodies to their relatives till yesterday afternoon.

The victims mostly hailed from Matlab and Chandpur Sadar upazilas.

Hundreds of people rushed to the riverside on hearing about the accident. Many of them wailed looking for their near and dear ones among the victims.

MV Maharaj left Sadarghat terminal for Matlab in Chandpur at 10:00pm on Saturday and was caught in a tornado at about 10:45 pm. Within minutes, the launch went upside down and sank in the river.

Locals said about 50 to 60 passengers either swam ashore or trawlers, boats and sand-carrying vessels rescued them. The launch was supposed to carry up to 200 passengers at night.

BIWTA salvage vessel MV Rustam reached the spot at about 11:30 am Sunday but failed to salvage the launch that is quite big in size. Salvage vessel Hamza joined Rustam at 5:30am yesterday and they pulled up the launch at 12:30 pm.

Shipping Minister Akbar Hossain blamed the accident on poor weather forecast by meteorological department. "I heard the weather forecast on Saturday. It did not mention about any tornado," he told newsmen while visiting the spot on Sunday.

A survivor of the accident, Shahidul Islam of Matlab, said, "It was raining and suddenly I found our launch upside down and myself in water."

Another survivor, Delwar Hossain, said that before the tornado, it was raining and passengers fixed tarpaulin against the windows so that rainwater could not enter the vessel. The launch capsized abruptly and most people could not come out due to the tarpaulin, he mentioned as tears rolled down his cheeks.

Trawlers and sand-carrying vessels started rescue operation immediately. But police and fire brigade men reached the spot after two hours, witnesses alleged.

Quoting local people, UNB reported that some 30 to 40 passengers might have been washed downstream in the last three days.

About 70 divers of Naval Coastguard, fire brigade units from Sadarghat, Fatullah and Narayanganj and BIWTA jointly carried out the rescue operation along with local people.

The government has formed a one-member body comprising Captain Jasimuddin Sarker, chief naval surveyor, to investigate the launch accident. It will submit its report within a week.

"The launch has fitness certificate until 14 April. Now I have to look into other things," Jasimuddin told The Daily Star.

Met office sources said they had warned for hoisting cautionary signal number 1 on Saturday.

Director of BIWTA Syed Monwar Hossain told The Daily Star that the Met office instructed the river ports to hoist cautionary signal number 1 meaning the launches could ply but with caution.

The crew of rescue vessel MV Rustam Sunday seen salvaging launch MV Maharaj, which sank with more than 200 passengers in the river Buriganga on Saturday night. PHOTO: SK Enamul Haq