The Obhijan 10, a three-story ferry, caught fire in the middle of the river in the morning near the town of Jhalokathi, 250 km south of the capital Dhaka, police said.
” We recovered 37 bodies. The toll could grow heavier. Most died in the fire and a few drowned after jumping into the river. “
We sent 100 people with burns to hospitals in Barisal, he added.
Witnesses said the fire started around 3 a.m. and quickly spread.
We slept on a mat on the lower deck. All the passengers were asleep. My 9 year old grandson, Nayeem, was with me, he jumped into the river. I don’t know what happened to him, said a grandmother.
Other passengers say they saw small flames in the engine room as the ferry departed from Sadarghat port in Dhaka around 9 p.m. Thursday.
Many people ran for shelter when the fire spread. Many passengers could not get out of the cabins where they slept. Many jumped into the river, explained another survivor at Barisal University Hospital.
Help arrived on site within an hour of the start of the fire and evacuated the injured to hospitals, said Johar Ali, district administrator.
We spoke to passengers. And they say there were between 500 and 700 passengers, he told the AFP.
The fire lasted four or five hours before being extinguished. The ferry was completely destroyed, but they managed to get it back to shore, he added.
Television showed images of charred two-wheelers and devastated cabins.
Shocked survivors and their loved ones huddled on the shore as firefighters and Coast Guard divers scoured the muddy waters for victims.
The accident is the latest in a series of similar disasters in the low-lying country located around a delta made up of hundreds of rivers.
Millions of people in Bangladesh, a country of 170 million people, rely heavily on ferries for their transport, especially in the southern coastal region. But the ships are insecure.
Experts point to the lack of vessel maintenance, lax safety standards and overcrowding on ferries.
In August, a collision of a ferry and a cargo ship carrying sand left at least 21 dead on a lake in the east of the country. Boats carrying sand are largely submerged and difficult to see when conditions are bad.
The ferry was carrying around 60 passengers when it was struck by the steel bow of the freighter near the town of Bijoynagar. The divers must have searched for the bodies in the muddy waters of the lake.
In April and May, 54 people died in two separate crashes.
In June 2020, at least 32 people were killed in a collision between two ferries in Dhaka.
Fires are also the cause of many tragedies in Bangladesh.
In July, 52 people died in a fire at a food factory in Rupganj, an industrial town on the outskirts of Dhaka.
More than 70 people were killed in February 2019 in flames that ravaged apartments in Dhaka where chemicals were illegally stored.