A heavily-laden ferry has capsized and sunk in central Bangladesh after being caught in a storm, leaving at least nine people dead and hundreds more missing, police and officials say.
“We are receiving confusing figures on how many passengers were on board when it sank, but the number could range from 200 to 350,” said district government administrator Saiful Hasan.
“Nine bodies have been recovered so far,” he said of the accident on the river Meghna in Munshiganj district, some 50 kilometres south of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka.
Local police chief Ferdous Ahmed also confirmed the recovery of the nine bodies, including at least two of whom were women.
The vessel was travelling to the southern district of Shariatpur from Dhaka when it encountered problems and sank in the midafternoon.
“The ferry is completely under water. We are now trying to locate it,” Mr Ahmed said, adding that a salvage vessel and fire service divers were headed to the spot from the capital.
Hundreds of distraught relatives gathered on the banks of the river as the bodies were laid in lines in order to be identified, Mr Ahmed said.
The local online newspaper Banglanews24.com quoted a survivor of the accident, Abdur Razzaq, as saying that the boat was hit by the storm suddenly and sank within minutes.
Ferry accidents are common in Bangladesh, which is crisscrossed with more than 230 rivers.
Experts blame poorly maintained vessels, flaws in design and overcrowding for most of the tragedies.
Storms known locally as Kalboishakhi often hit Bangladesh during the early summer months in the lead-up to the monsoon, which generally begins in the first week of June.
Naval officials have said more than 95 per cent of Bangladesh’s small and medium-sized boats do not meet minimum safety regulations.