Ferry fire kills at least 39 in southern Bangladesh

Many passengers leapt from the vessel into cold waters to escape the blaze

At least 39 people have died and a further 72 have been injured following a fire that swept through a river ferry in southern Bangladesh on Friday, officials say.

Many passengers leapt from the vessel into cold waters to escape the blaze.

It took 15 fire engines two hours to control the fire and another eight to cool down the vessel, according to fire officer Kamal Uddin Bhuiyan, who led the rescue operation.

Afterward, the blackened hull of the ferry sat anchored at the river’s edge, and rescuers continued to look for both those who died and survivors.

The blaze broke out at about 3am on the MV Avijan-10, which was carrying 800 passengers, many of whom were travelling to visit family and friends for the weekend, officials said.

“I was sleeping on the deck and woke up hearing screams and a loud noise,” survivor Anisur Rahman told reporters, adding that he saw smoke coming from the back of the ferry.

“I jumped into the freezing water of the river in the thick fog, like many other passengers, and swam to the riverbank.”

Police officer Moinul Haque said rescuers recovered 37 bodies from the river, while two people died from burn injures on the way to the hospital. All of the 70 injured were admitted to hospital, including some with severe burns.

Ferries are a leading means of transportation in Bangladesh, which is crisscrossed by about 130 rivers, and accidents involving the vessels are common, often blamed on overcrowding or lax safety rules.

The ferry was travelling from Dhaka, the capital, to Barguna, about 155 miles to the south.

It caught fire off the coast of Jhalokati district on the Sugandha River, toward the end of the journey.

Mr Bhuiyan said the fire may have started in the engine room. The government set up two committees to investigate the blaze and ordered them to report their findings in three days.

In April, 25 people died after a ferry collided with another vessel and capsized outside Dhaka. – AP