NARAYANGANJ, Bangladesh: The death toll from a ferry accident in Bangladesh at the weekend rose to at least 34 after six more bodies were retrieved, officials said yesterday. The ferry packed with around 50 passengers heading home from the central city of Narayanganj ahead of an impending coronavirus lockdown had collided with a larger cargo vessel late on Sunday.
Authorities called off a search-and-rescue mission on Monday after salvaging the ship from the heavily polluted Shitalakshya river and recovering 22 bodies. But under pressure from relatives of people still missing, rescuers late Monday resumed operations with helicopters to scour the murky waters for any more bodies.
"Based on the relatives' account, at least two people are still missing," local official Mustain Billah told AFP. Under Bangladesh's seven-day lockdown in response to surging Covid cases, all domestic travel services were suspended on Monday and shops and malls were shut. Ferry accidents are common in Bangladesh, a delta nation crisscrossed by hundreds of rivers. Experts blame poor maintenance, lax safety standards at shipyards and overcrowding for many of the accidents.
In June last year, a ferry sank in Dhaka after it was hit from behind by another ferry, killing at least 32 people. In February 2015, at least 78 people died when an overcrowded ship collided with a cargo boat in a central Bangladesh river. Separately, one protester was killed and at least three others are in critical condition after police in Bangladesh opened fire on a violent protest against coronavirus restrictions, officials said. The incident took place Monday in the central town of Saltha in Faridpur district, where rumors had spread that a man at a market was injured while police were enforcing Covid-19 controls as cases spike nationwide.
Thousands of people took to the streets in anger. One group hurled bricks at a police station, vandalized government offices and torched an officer's home and two government cars, police said. A police spokesman said officers opened fire "in self-defense" after the station was attacked. A 20-year-old Islamic student was killed and at least seven people injured, including three police, according to Suminur Rahman, Faridpur deputy chief of police.
Staff at state-run Faridpur Medical College Hospital said three people with gunshot wounds are in critical condition. "One of them was hit in his buttocks, another in his chest and the third person was shot in both legs," Abdul Matin, a doctor at the emergency ward, said. Police said supporters of the hardline Hefazat-e-Islam group had joined the attack. Hefazat members were involved in deadly clashes during demonstrations against a visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month.
Bangladesh on Monday instituted a seven-day nationwide lockdown after 7,087 people tested positive for coronavirus on Sunday, the highest daily total recorded in the South Asian nation. All domestic buses, ferries, trains and flights have been suspended, and shops and malls have been shut. A nighttime curfew is also in effect. - AFP