● One rescued alive from capsized vessel after 13 hours
● 20 swim ashore after launch sinks
● State Minister for Shipping smells ‘murder’
● All bodies identified, handed over to families
● Financial aid announced for victims’ families
● BIWTA, Shipping Ministry form probe teams
At least 32 people were killed on Monday morning when a small launch sank in the Buriganga River after a larger one in reverse horrifically crashed into it near Farashganj Ghat in Dhaka — leaving the nation shocked.
Until the evening, it was unclear how many passengers had been on board the ill-fated launch, ML Morning Bird, when it went down, a tragedy the state minister for shipping found suspicious and “premeditated.”
At the time of the capsize, 9:13am, the launch — which could carry 125 people — was either carrying 50-60 or 70-80 passengers, survivors and officials in Munshiganj and Dhaka said later. No one was quite sure, though.
Some said there was still a possibility that the death toll might rise.
As footage from a CCTV camera in Sadarghat, on the other side of the river, revealed and according to the authorities and witnesses, the Morning Bird capsized in seconds after the bigger launch, named Mayur-2, crashed into it while travelling backwards.
The three-deck Mayur-2 was on its way to dock at Sadarghat's terminal for Chandpur-bound vessels after unloading passengers at the Lalkuthi terminal.
All 32 bodies — 21 men, eight women and three children — were recovered from the river soon after the incident, Fire Service and Civil Defence control room duty officer Lima Khanom told Dhaka Tribune in the evening in the last update on the accident.
Sadarghat police station OC Rejaul Karim Bhuiyan said all bodies had been identified and handed over to their families from the morgue at Sir Salimullah Medical College Hospital, commonly known as Mitford Hospital.
Citing witnesses and rescuers, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) Chairman Commodore Golam Sadeq said at least 20 passengers of the Morning Bird had managed to swim ashore after the vessel sank.
However, Fire Service official Lima at around 10:30pm confirmed to Dhaka Tribune that divers had found a man miraculously alive inside a closed off compartment of the capsized vessel 13 hours after it sank.
She said the survivor was sent to Mitford Hospital right away for medical attention. Details about how the man, identified later as Sumon Bepari, survived that long were not available at the time.
BIWTA and the Shipping Ministry have formed two committees to investigate the incident, while the authorities impounded the Mayur-2. Any of its crew were also yet to be detained, however.
The BIWTA probe team was given 72 hours to submit its findings, while the other team was given seven days.
Both committees were asked to make specific recommendations through revealing the cause of the accident, identifying the persons or organization responsible and suggest measures needed to prevent such incidents.
Meanwhile, President Md Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina led the nation in mourning the deaths and extending their condolences to the victims' families.
A statement from the press wing of the Prime Minister’s Office said Hasina was closely monitoring the developments of the rescue and salvage attempts.
Hundreds of people, including those looking for their loved ones, gathered on both banks of the Buriganga River after the Morning Bird sank in the morning.
At the same time, many took small boats to join the BIWTA, Fire Service, river police, coast guard and Bangladesh Navy’s diving teams in their rescue and salvage efforts — amid the Covid-19 pandemic that has killed 1,783 people around the country.
Rojina Akhter, the duty officer at the Fire Service control room at the time, was the first to confirm that the Morning Bird had been downed by the Mayur-2, which came from Chandpur.
Sadarghat police OC Rejaul also added that the Morning Bird was coming from Munshiganj’s Kathpotti area when the gut-wrenching incident took place.
Locals said such accidents were common at ghats like this as launch and boats always dock haphazardly, and there was no system in place.
Soon after the incident, BIWTA Joint Director AKM Arif Uddin confirmed that they found the drowned launch and had tied it up with ropes.
However, their rescue vessel, Prottoy, which was supposed to come and salvage the launch, got stuck on the river in the Kanchpur Bridge area as its height stopped it from passing under the bridge.
“We are looking for different options,” Arif added.
The attempt to salvage the vessel manually was ongoing until the filing of this report at 11pm.
According to some of the survivors, around 70 to 80 people had boarded the launch at Kathpotti. But when the launch sank, it was carrying at least 50-60 passengers as some got off at stops on the way to Dhaka. Most of them drowned while at least 20 passengers managed to swim ashore.
“The launch had a capacity of 125 passengers, but at least 70-80 persons had boarded the launch,” said Port Officer Bashir Ali of Munshiganj’s Mirkadim Launch Terminal.
He, however, said the actual number of passengers was not logged at the time of the departure.
‘This is murder’
Meanwhile, State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said it seemed to him that the capsize of the Morning Bird in the Buriganga was premeditated.
“From what we have seen on CCTV footage, it didn’t look like an accident; this is murder. It seemed planned,” he told reporters at Sadarghat Launch Terminal during a visit later in the day.
"If the investigation finds it to have been a planned incident, we will take all necessary action against the people responsible," he added.
The state minister also announced that each of the families of the deceased will get Tk10,000 immediately for funeral purposes and Tk150,000 later as compensation from the authorities.
All 32 deceased were from different areas of Munshiganj, some officials said. But the district's Deputy Commissioner Md Moniruzzaman Talukdar in the afternoon said they were yet to confirm that information.
“We are trying to make a list. Families of all the deceased will be given Tk20,000, if they need the aid,” he told our Munshiganj Correspondent Tanjil Hasan.
The deceased were gradually identified as Shahadat Hossain, 44; Abu Taher Bepari, 58; Sumon Talukder, 35; Moyna Begum, 35; her daughter Mukta Aktar, 13; Afzal Sheikh, 48; Moniruzzaman Monir, 42; Golap Hossain, 50; Suborna Begum, 38; her son Tamim, 10; Abu Sayeed, 39; Sufia Begum, 50; Shahidul Islam, 61; Mizanur Rahman Kanak, 32; Satya Ranjan Banik, 65; Shamim Bepary, 44; Beauty Akhter, 38; Ayesha Begum, 35; Md Millat, 35; Md Amir Hossain, 55; Sumona Aktar, 32; Pappu, 32; Md Mahim, 17; Didar Hossain, 45; Hafeza Khatun Ruma, 38; Hasina Rahman, 35; Sifat, 8; Alam Bepari, 38; Talha, 2; Ismail Sharif, 35; Saiful Islam, 42; and Basudeb Nath, 45.
Dark day for the families
As soon as the news of the capsize spread, dark shadows crept into the minds of the passengers’ families who live in Dhaka and Munshiganj.
Their fear of loss only became real after they arrived at the scene and grief took permanent hold when they had to identify their loved ones at the Mitford Hospital morgue.
Nayan Talukder was one of the first to arrive at the scene, looking for his brother Sumon Talukder, who worked at the Islampur branch of Jamuna Bank Ltd and did not survive the accident.
Nayan was seen in tears, sitting and holding his dead brother’s hand on a boat that was among a fleet used by rescuers to carry the bodies of the deceased after recovering them from the river.
Rokhsana became a widow just after seven months of her marriage to Didar Hossain of Rikabibazar, Munshiganj.
Didar had a lentil business in Dhaka’s Rahmatganj and was on his way to the capital with his sister Hafeza to visit an ailing relative, when the siblings died in the accident.
“Why did this happen to me?” — was the only sentence Rokhsana could mutter since she received the news of Didar’s death.
Shocked beyond belief, other members of the family also could not muster anything to express their grief.
Another deceased, Sufia Begum, was also from Munshiganj's Paschimpara area. Her daughter Suma Begum survived the crash, only to be left scarred by the tragic loss of her mother.
Local resident Rubel said he knew at least four other people who died when the Morning Bird sank.
Dhaka Tribune’s Tanjir Rahman contributed to this report.