Bangladesh pilgrim boat tragedy death toll hits 61

DHAKA (AFP): Rescuers and navy divers recovered 10 bodies Tuesday after a boat overloaded with religious pilgrims capsized in Bangladesh, police said, taking the death toll to 61 as anxious relatives waited for news of several people who were still missing.

The incident on Sunday near the northern town of Boda was the deadliest in years in the South Asian country, which is crisscrossed by rivers where overcrowding on aged vessels is common.

Seventeen of those killed were children, authorities said, with video footage suggesting some were as young as around four years old.

The small vessel on its way to a popular temple flipped over in a river as onlookers screamed from the shore, in horrific scenes captured on cellphones.

Boda police chief Sujay Kumar Roy said rescue workers including firefighters, navy divers and villagers were searching for miles downstream on the Karotoa River, where the tragedy occurred.

The boat was carrying around 90 people, of whom around 50 were pilgrims on their way to the centuries-old Hindu temple for a major festival, according to police.

“We resumed the search this morning and rescuers found a few more bodies downstream and also under the water… Still a few more people are missing,” Roy told AFP.

Abdur Razzaque, a police inspector, said at least 30 of the dead were women.

“A committee has been formed to probe the incident,” he said.


Dozens of relatives of the missing people were still crowding the river bank on Tuesday, although most had left after authorities handed over their family members’ bodies.

“Three women of my family were missing since the boat capsized,” said one distraught relative, Bikash Chandra, late on Monday.

“We found one in the morning around 10:00 am, who was rescued earlier. But I couldn’t find the other two yet.”

District police chief Sirajul Huda said Monday the boat was carrying three times its permitted capacity.

“The boatman asked some people to disembark in an effort to ease the weight-load. But no one listened,” he told AFP.

Mobile phone footage aired by TV station Channel 24 showed the overcrowded boat suddenly flipping over, spilling the passengers into the muddy brown river.

Dozens of people watching from the shore started shouting and screaming. The weather was calm at the time.

Thousands of Hindus in Muslim-majority Bangladesh visit the famous Bodeshwari Temple every year.

Sunday marked the start of Durga Puja, a major Hindu festival drawing large crowds at the temple.

Last December, around 40 people perished when a packed three-storey ferry caught fire in southern Bangladesh.

A ferry sank in Dhaka in June 2020 after a collision with another vessel, killing at least 32 people.

And at least 78 people perished in 2015 when an overcrowded ship collided with a cargo vessel in a river west of the capital.