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Thousands Line Banks Awaiting Ferry Salvage

December 28, 1988

DEGRIRCHAR, Bangladesh (AP) _ Women wailed alongside Dhaleswari River that swirled over a sunken ship Wednesday, and Afazuddin Ahmed fell to his knees on the sandy bank, sharing his grief with thousands.

Ahmed had rushed to this little river town when he heard that a ferry with an estimated 250 people aboard - including his family - had sunk just off shore Tuesday.

Survivors and witnesses said no more than 100 passengers survived the tragedy. Only five bodies have been found, but authorities believe many more are inside the vessel’s submerged hull.

Ahmed found his 4-year-old daughter wandering among the grief-stricken crowd of survivors and relatives, but his 22-year-old wife and three other young daughters were missing.

The family was headed to visit his father-in-law, and Ahmed, who had stayed behind to farm, would have joined them Thursday.

″Oh, Allah, what have I done to you that I should be punished this way?″ the 30-year-old farmer cried, joining a cacophony of sorrow and confusion. ″I must die, why should I live? What should I live for?″

An estimated 5,000 people, most of them relatives, crowded this little village on the western bank of the river Wednesday while searchers looked for survivors from Tuesday’s sinking.

The ferry, a single-deck motor launch called the Shasayal, sank after colliding with a cargo vessel.

The 74-feet wooden ship was under 21 feet of water as rescuers awaited the arrival of a salvage ship from the southern port town of Mongla. The ship is not expected before Thursday.

Witnesses and passengers said the ferry had a sanctioned capacity of only 168 people.

″Only those traveling on the upper deck of the ferry could survive,″ said Mohammad Ali, a Dhaka businessman who swam ashore.

″It is unlikely that there is anyone alive inside the hull. More bodies are likely to be found inside the hull,″ said Chowdhury Mohammad Azad, director of Bangladesh’s shipping department.

Police and other government officials would not comment on the death toll or the number missing. A police officer speaking on condition of anonymity would only say five bodies were found.

Ferries are a popular form of transportation in Bangladesh and accidents are relatively common, but death tolls are difficult to estimate. Government officials often refuse to confirm witness accounts of dead or missing.

Some villagers hurled stones at police and rescue officials, accusing them of slowing the rescue operation to cover up the number of casualties. The police quieted the crowd with mild baton charges.

Abul Kalam was traveling to Dhaka from the village of Hasail, where the ferry’s journey started. He said his four children were lost in the sinking.

The family was returning to their Dhaka home after a week-long visit to Kalam’s father-in-law’s house at Hasail, only seven miles south of Dhaka.

″I am afraid I shall never get my children back. What shall I tell to their mother?″ he said, bursting into tears.

Update hourly