x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

India appeals to Bangladesh for assistance in recovering bodies in ferry disaster

Police said 105 bodies, including many women and children, had been recovered so far from the fast-flowing river in India's north-eastern Assam state, where the ferry was split in two during a sudden storm.

Abdul Mazid, 42, centre, waits on an embankment on the Brahmaputra River for his sister, who was still missing when a ferry capsized in Assam, India killing more than 100. Over 100 people are still missing.
Abdul Mazid, 42, centre, waits on an embankment on the Brahmaputra River for his sister, who was still missing when a ferry capsized in Assam, India killing more than 100. Over 100 people are still missing.

GUWAHATI, INDIA // Indian authorities said that bodies might have been washed downstream into Bangladesh after a ferry sank in the Brahmaputra river, leaving more than 100 people dead and about 100 missing.

Police said 105 bodies, including many women and children, had been recovered so far from the fast-flowing river in India's north-eastern Assam state, where the ferry was split in two during a sudden storm on Monday.

Despite an operating capacity of 225, 350 people were believed to be on the two-deck boat when it broke up mid-river in torrential, pre-monsoon rains.

"I appeal to Bangladesh to help us in retrieving any dead body or survivors who could have reached their territory," Assam state chief minister Tarun Gogoi told reporters, saying a formal request had been made to the Dhaka government.

The boat sank near the riverside town of Dhubri, about 25 kilometres from the border with Bangladesh.

The Brahmaputra, which is eight kilometres wide at the scene of the accident, flows through north-eastern India into Bangladesh and out into the Bay of Bengal.

Mr Gogoi added that an inquiry would be launched but that rescue efforts remained the priority.

Police said 150 people were rescued or swam to safety. The ferry carried no lifeboats or lifebelts and the chances of picking up more survivors after a night in the water were remote.

Two helicopters scoured the river from above as soldiers and police reinforced divers and rescue teams working in rubber dinghies, but rain and dangerous water conditions restricted the search operation.

"The weather is inclement and the river is rough so the rescue efforts are being hampered," state police chief JN Choudhury said. No additional bodies were recovered yesterday

Taleb Ali, a 35-year-old villager who survived the sinking, said passengers had begged the skipper to anchor the ferry at a sandbar when the storm hit mid-stream, but he refused.

"Then the storm became more intense and the boat split into two parts before sinking," Mr Ali told the local News Live television channel.

Fishermen, who live with their families in tiny hamlets stretching along the Brahmaputra, which has a reputation as a treacherous waterway, also combed the shores for survivors.

Arun Kalita, a 30-year-old road construction worker who swam to safety, said: "I could hear many people screaming for God's help but it was a turbulent river and the storm was very severe.

"No one could come and rescue them," he said.