At least 37 people were killed when a flooded ferry caught fire in Bangladesh on Friday, police said, adding that panicked passengers jumped overboard to escape the blaze.
The latest maritime tragedy to hit the impoverished lowland nation took place at dawn on a river near Jhalokati, 250 km (160 miles) south of Dhaka.
Local police chief Moinul Islam told AFP: “We have recovered 36 bodies. The death toll could rise. Most of the people were burnt to death and some drowned after jumping into the river.”
Islam said the fire was believed to have started in the engine room and between the ferries. Despite having an official capacity of 310, the ship had at least 500 people on board, many of whom were returning home from the capital.
“We have sent about 100 people from Barisal to the hospital with burns,” he said.
Witnesses said the fire started around 3 am (2100 GMT) and spread rapidly.
“We were sleeping on a mat on the ground floor deck. The passengers were all sleeping. I had my nine-year-old grandson Naeem with me. He jumped into the river. I don’t know what happened to him.” Said an old grandmother.
Other survivors said they saw a small fire in the engine room as the packed ferry left Dhaka’s Sadarghat river station at 9pm on Thursday.
Another survivor of Barisal Medical College Hospital said, “Many people rushed to safety as the fire spread. Many people could not get out of where they were sleeping. Many jumped into the river.”
Local Deputy Commissioner Johar Ali said rescuers reached the spot within an hour of the fire and rushed the injured to a nearby hospital.
“We talked to the passengers. And they said there were 500 to 700 passengers,” he told AFP.
“It took four or five hours before the fire was extinguished [ferry] It was destroyed but they managed to bring it ashore, “said Ali.
Local television has shown pictures of burnt motorcycles and burnt cabins inside the boat.
Fire service and coastguard divers jumped into the muddy waters to survive the shell-hit and their relatives rushed to shore.
The accident was the latest in a series of similar incidents in the riverine delta.
Experts in the 170-million-strong South Asian country have blamed poor maintenance, poor safety standards at shipyards and overcrowding.
In August, at least 21 people were killed when a boat carrying passengers and a cargo ship carrying sand collided. In April and May, 54 people were killed in two separate accidents.
In June last year, a ferry in Dhaka sank after being hit by another ferry, killing at least 32 people. In February 2015, an overcrowded ship collided with a cargo ship, killing at least 78 people.
Fire is also a regular source of tragedy. In July, a fire at a food and beverage factory in the industrial city of Rupganj outside Dhaka killed 52 people.
And in February 2019, a fire in a Dhaka apartment killed at least 70 people where chemicals were stored illegally.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)