Dhaka: At least 32 people died on Friday after a three-storey and overcrowded night ferry caught fire in southern Bangladesh. The local administration said that some 100 people have been badly injured in the fire.
"The three-storey Obhijan 10 caught fire mid-river. We have recovered 32 bodies. The death count may rise. Most died from the fire and a few by drowning after they jumped into the river," said local police chief Moinul Islam, according to a report by AFP.
The officials said that 70 passengers on board the ill-fated Barguna-bound MV Abhijan-10 have been rescued so far, while many others remain missing.
The latest maritime tragedy in the country happened in the early hours in a river near Jhalokathi, 250 kilometres (160 miles) south of Dhaka.
The blaze is believed to have originated in the engine room and ripped through the ferry, Islam said. Despite having an official capacity of 310 the vessel was carrying at least 500 people, many of who were returning home from the capital.
Witnesses said the fire originated at around 3:00 am (2100 GMT) and quickly spread.
Other survivors said they saw a small fire in the engine room as soon as the packed ferry set off from the Sadarghat river station in Dhaka at 9:00 pm on Thursday.
"A lot of people ran for safety as the fire spread. A lot of people could not get out of their cabins where they were sleeping. Many jumped into the river," said a survivor at Barisal Medical College Hospital.
Johar Ali, the local district administrator, said rescuers arrived at the scene within an hour after the fire broke out and rushed the injured to nearby hospitals.
"We spoke to passengers. And they said there were between 500 and 700 passengers," he told AFP.
"The fire went on for four or five hours before it was doused. The entire [ferry] has been gutted. But they managed to bring it to the shore," Ali said.
Local television showed images of burnt motorcycles and gutted cabins inside the boat.
Shell-shocked survivors and their relatives crowded the shore as fire service and coast guard divers scoured the muddy waters.