At least 103 die as ferry sinks in northeast India

Tue, May 1, 2012, 01:00

GUWAHATI – Rescue workers fought heavy wind and rain to search for survivors after at least 103 people drowned on an overloaded ferry carrying about 300 people that sank at night on one of India’s largest rivers yesterday, police said.

About 100 people were rescued, said Jayanta Narayan Choudhury, police chief of the state of Assam, where the boat sank.

The accident was the worst of its kind in recent memory in India’s northeastern region.

People were sitting on the roof of the ferry, which was carrying mainly local farmers and their families when it tipped over in a storm on a one-kilometre-wide stretch of the Brahmaputra river in a remote region of the state, close to China and Bangladesh, police said.

“Our rescue efforts have been hampered by bad weather. It is still raining heavily and there is almost zero visibility in the area,” said a police officer at the scene.

Rescue operations were called off late last night and were set to begin again at dawn.

Eyewitnesses told police the vessel was old and that it broke in two after capsizing in the swollen Brahmaputra river, one of Asia’s largest. Smaller boats often get into trouble on the river, but the ferry was the largest to sink in recent years.

The boat was overloaded with people and sacks of rice, among other goods, and carried no lifeboats or life jackets, the police officer said.

The area is dotted with riverside settlements and small islands, and boats are the most common mode of transport. Rescue workers said they had contacted colleagues downstream in Bangladesh to help in the search for survivors.

The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, who represents Assam in the upper house of parliament, said he was “shocked and grieved” by the accident. – (Reuters, AP)