Death toll rises to 18 in India ferry sinking

October 31, 2010 12:00 am

, KOLKATA, Oct 31 – Two more bodies were pulled out of a fast-flowing river in eastern India on Sunday taking the death toll to 18 after an overcrowded ferry capsized and sank, with scores of people still missing.

Coastguard and navy vessels searched for further victims of the ferry accident, which took place on Saturday morning in West Bengal state.

"We now have collected 18 bodies from the river which is wide and turbulent, and we are uncertain of exactly how many more people are missing," senior state police officer Surojit Karpurokayastha told AFP.

The vessel, which was carrying around 150 people, capsized in a river in the Sundarbans mangrove forest, 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Kolkata, capital of West Bengal.

The boat had the capacity of just 60 passengers, officials said, but was badly overloaded.

The passengers, who were mainly farmers and fishermen, were returning from a Muslim religious function when the accident occurred.

Naval fishing vessels, hovercraft and helicopters joined the rescue operation when the search was restarted at dawn on Sunday, the Press Trust of India said, adding the victims were 15 women and three girls.

It said the exact spot where the ferry sank had yet to be established.

Some television news channel reported that more than 100 people were missing, but officials dismissed the number.

"I only remember a big tide and then everything was blank. I had my son sitting beside me. But right now I don\’t know where he is," Ajmal Sheikh, 23, told the IANS news agency.

Press reports said the boat had turned over after hitting a sand bank in rough conditions.

The ferry was one of five vessels making their way to Kakdwip from Khejuri when it sank in the Muriganga River off Ghoramara Island.

"The boat was badly overcrowded and the vessel sank after a giant wave slapped the side of the vessel," West Bengal civil defence minister Srikumar Mukherjee told AFP.

Fishermen plucked at least 60 survivors from the water while others managed to swim to safety, police said.

"The river\’s strong current is hampering the search operation," Mukherjee said.

Anxious relatives were keeping vigil for news of their loved ones.

Rescuers erected floodlights on the river\’s banks to make the search easier at night, but authorities feared that many of the victims had been swept away by the current.

Boat accidents are common in the South Asian subcontinent due to lax safety standards and overloading.

A similar ferry accident occurred in the same river in September, leaving two dozen people dead.



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