DHAKA – Bangladeshi authorities buried 23 unclaimed bodies on Saturday after a day-long search failed to recover more victims or survivors of a massive fire on a crowded river ferry that left 40 people dead.
Habibur Rahman, a top government official, said he had an incomplete list of 17 missing people who were on board the ferry on Friday when the fire awoke passengers around 3 a.m., forcing many to leap into cold waters and swim ashore.
Divers looked for more survivors before suspending their efforts at sunset on Saturday.
Rahman said 50 people were being treated in two hospitals, while 19 others have been sent home.
Dr. Samanta Lal Sen, chief coordinator of the Sheikh Hasina National Burn and Plastic Surgery Institute in Dhaka, said his hospital was treating 15 people for serious burns. “I would say everyone is critical and no one is out of danger,” he said.
Thirty-five injured in another hospital in Barishal were out of danger, said hospital Director Dr. Saiful Isalm.
Investigators inspected the fire-ravaged ferry MV Abhijan-10, and one of them, Mohammed Tofayel Islam, said they found some defects in the engine room. "We’re trying to unearth other possible reasons,” he said.
It took 15 fire engines several hours to control the blaze and cool down the vessel, according to fire officer Kamal Uddin Bhuiyan, who led the rescue operation. Afterward, the blackened hull of the ferry sat anchored at the river’s edge while many anxious relatives gathered on the banks.
The ferry was carrying some 800 passengers, many of whom were traveling to visit family and friends for the weekend, officials said.
Police officer Moinul Haque said rescuers recovered 37 bodies from the river, while two people died from burns on the way to the hospital. Another injured passenger died overnight in a Dhaka hospital.
The ferry was traveling from Dhaka to Barguna, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) to the south. It caught fire off the coast of Jhalokati district on the Sugandha River, toward the end of the journey.
Ferries are a leading means of transportation in Bangladesh, which is crisscrossed by about 130 rivers, and accidents involving the vessels are common, often blamed on overcrowding or lax safety rules. In April, 25 people died after a ferry collided with another vessel and capsized outside Dhaka.