Dhaka, Jun 29 (PTI) At least 32 people were drowned and many were missing on Monday when a ferry carrying over 100 passengers capsized in Buriganga river after it was hit by a bigger vessel in the Bangladeshi capital here, officials said.
'It appeared to be an accident caused by the negligence of the drivers,' an official of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) told reporters.
Rescuers feared several passengers were trapped inside the ferry, which sank at around 9:30 am with nearly 100 passengers on board in the Buriganga river along the Shyambazar area of Old Dhaka.
'Thirty two bodies have been retrieved so far. Search is on for the missing ones,' the BIWTA official said.
Most of the dead bodies have been identified and handed over to their families.
The ferry 'Morning Bird', which was coming to Dhaka from Munshiganj, capsized in the river after it was hit by a bigger vessel 'Moyur-2' near the Sadarghat launch terminal.
According to police, Moyur-2 was rushing towards a terminal to pick up passengers to be ferried to central Chandpur district, while the Morning Bird lowered its speed as passengers on board were preparing to disembark.
Following the accident, the master and other staff of Moyur-2, which was carrying some 1,000 passengers, immediately left the scene and went into hiding, police said.
'We have launched a manhunt for the master in particular,' a police official said.
The Morning Bird ferries people between Dhaka and Munshiganj on the outskirts of the capital with most of its regular passengers being ordinary traders and employees of different government and private offices.
Officials, meanwhile, found a CCTV footage which shows a fast moving Moyur-2 hitting the dilapidated Morning Bird from behind and capsizing it in less than a minute.
'What it appears initially from the CCTV footage, it could be a staged event...a planned massacre,' junior minister for shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury told reporters.
He said an investigation has been ordered into the incident and if the probe finds it as a deliberate accident, punitive action will be taken against the culprits for planned murders.
Navy and coast guard divers joined the fire service rescuers, while a BIWTA salvage ship was deployed to retrieve the sunken Morning Bird.
People along the shore immediately came to the aid of the victims with country boats before the arrival of the operators with rescue equipment, eye witnesses said.
It was not clear how many people swam to safety or how many are still missing.
'The muddy water is disrupting the rescue operation, affecting divers' visibility,' a fire service official said.
High water level in Buriganga, meanwhile, prevented engagement of salvage ship to retrieve the sunken vessel.
'We are preparing to lay out balloons to retrieve the Morning Bird, sunk in the shallow waters,' a BITWA official said.
News channels showed the salvage vessel, Protya, stuck at the bridge point as the height of its crane prevented it from crossing the structure while gushing waters from upstream inflated Buriganga's water level.
Poor safety standards of vessels and their reckless driving have been repeatedly blamed for frequent ferry accidents in riverine Bangladesh. In most of the cases, the ferries carry passengers beyond their capacity. PTI AR SCY SCY