Scores of people were missing after a ferry carrying around 100 passengers sank following a collision on a river in Bangladesh Friday, the latest in a series of disasters blamed on lax safety standards.
The small vessel was ferrying passengers on the Meghna river, close to the town of Gazaria in the central Munshiganj district, at around 8:00 am (0200 GMT) when it collided with a barge laden with sand to be used for construction.
While some passengers managed to swim to safety as the wooden boat went down rapidly, many others remained unaccounted for, said officials involved in the rescue effort.
"So far we have gathered that the ferry was carrying around 100 people. A maximum 40 people are feared missing," local police chief Jahangir Hossain told AFP.
Munshiganj's district administrator Saifuddin Badal said that more than 50 people were still unaccounted for after the disaster.
"We heard around 25 people have swum ashore," he told AFP.
Badal said the boat, named MV Sarosh, was carrying passengers from the capital Dhaka to the southeastern district of Chandpur.
"The rescue vessel MV Rustam has arrived at the scene. We expect we can salvage the ship very soon," he said, adding that divers had been called in to help locate the boat.
The exact number of people on board was uncertain as passenger lists are often not maintained properly in Bangladesh and many travellers buy tickets on board.
Hundreds of distraught relatives gathered on both sides of the river, anxiously waiting to know the fate of their loved ones.
Bangladesh has a history of boat disasters as a result of poor safety standards and frequent overloading of vessels.
Last March 147 people were killed when a passenger vessel sank in the Meghna river after colliding with a cargo ship.
At least 149 people were killed in the worst boat tragedy in February 2005 when a ferry sank in the Buriganga river on the outskirts of Dhaka.
In December 2009 46 people, mostly women and children, drowned in Daira river in northeastern district of Kishorganj after a ferry capsized and sank.
Ferries are the main form of transport in Bangladesh, a low-lying country that is subject to frequent flooding and where the road network is rudimentary.
However many of the vessels that plough the 230 or so rivers that traverse the country date back to before independence in 1971 and overcrowding is frequent.
Naval officials have said more than 95 percent of Bangladesh's hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized boats do not meet minimum safety regulations.