DHAKA - Agence France-Presse
Rescue workers on a Bangladesh Coast Guard boat search the waters where an overloaded ferry capsized as onlookers gather on the banks of the Padma river in Munshiganj. AFP Photo
Rescuers in Bangladesh searched Tuesday for the wreckage of a heavily overloaded river ferry that sank, with nearly 120 people still missing.
Around 100 survivors have been pulled from the swollen river, but 24 hours after the disaster emergency workers have still not been able to locate the vessel.
"The ferry was the smallest of all ferries in this route, with a capacity of only 85 passengers it was heavily overcrowded," said Saiful Hasan, chief administrator of Munshiganj district, where the ship sank.
Bangladeshi ferries do not maintain passenger logbooks, and it is not known exactly how many people were on board when the ferry sank after being engulfed by large waves.
"We have listed 118 passengers as missing based on the claims from the relatives. It appears that the ferry was carrying more than 200 passengers," Hasan told AFP.
Ferry accidents are common in the impoverished country, with overcrowding and poor ship design and maintenance often to blame.
Most of the passengers on the double-decker ferry were returning to the capital Dhaka after celebrating Eid, the largest annual festival in the Muslim-majority nation.
"A rescue vessel has been mobilised at the scene, but we have not been able to begin the process of lifting the ferry as we have not yet been able to locate it," Hasan said.
Bangladesh, one of Asia's poorest nations, is criss-crossed by more than 230 rivers. Boats are the main form of travel, especially in the southern and northeastern regions.
Officials have said more than 95 percent of Bangladesh's hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized boats do not meet minimum safety regulations.
In May, a passenger ferry thought to be carrying between 150 and 200 people sank in central Bangladesh, killing dozens of people. The exact death toll remains unknown.
Around 150 people were killed in the same district in March 2012 after an overcrowded ferry carrying about 200 passengers sank when it was hit by an oil barge in the middle of the night.