Bangladesh boat tragedy death toll rises to 51

Rescue workers recovered 26 more bodies on Monday after a boat carrying religious pilgrims in Bangladesh capsized and the death toll rose to 51, with at least a dozen people still missing, police said.

The small boat, filled mostly with women and children en route to a popular temple, overturned in a river on Sunday as onlookers shouted from the shore.

The incident near the remote northern town of Boda was the latest in a series of similar tragedies blamed on poor maintenance and overcrowding in the low-lying delta country.

Regional police chief Sirajul Huda said firefighters and navy divers recovered 26 bodies in the Karotoa River, downstream from where the boat overturned.

According to the police, it carried around 90 people, of whom around 50 were pilgrims on their way to the centuries-old Hindu temple for a big festival.

Huda said up to 15 people were still missing.

“We gave up the night’s search. We will resume our search tomorrow morning,” he told AFP.

Police said they had lowered the number of missing people as some reported finding relatives who had fled to safety.

Huda said the boat was three times its capacity.

“In the morning there was heavy rain, so when the ferry started, the pilgrims packed the boat to get to the temple quickly,” he told AFP.

“The boatswain asked some people to disembark to lighten the weight load. But nobody was listening,” he said.

Local media said at least 10 people were rescued and taken to hospital.

Cellphone footage broadcast by Channel 24 TV showed the overcrowded boat suddenly overturning, dumping the passengers into the muddy brown river.

Dozens of people watching from the shore began shouting and screaming. The weather was calm at that time.

Thousands of Hindus in Muslim-majority Bangladesh visit the famous Bodeshwari Temple every year.

Sunday marked the start of Durga Puja, the largest Hindu festival in Bangladesh – and also in East India – which drew large crowds to the temple.

Around 40 people were killed in southern Bangladesh last December when an overcrowded three-story ferry caught fire.

A ferry sank in Dhaka in June 2020 after colliding with another ship, killing at least 32 people.

And at least 78 people were killed in 2015 when an overcrowded ship collided with a cargo ship in a river west of the capital.