A festival turned into a tragedy as at least 25 people, mostly Hindu devotees, died, seven went missing and 19 others were injured as a boat, driven by a shallow tube well engine, capsized in the River Karatoa at Awliar Ghat under Boda upazila in Panchagarh on Sunday.
The Hindu devotees were returning after attending a Mahalaya event, a pre-Durga Puja programme. One dead was identified as a Muslim.
Based on eyewitness accounts and a primary investigation, the boat was overloaded and sank immediately after it begun to ply.
Panchagarh fire service assistant director Sheikh Md Mahbub Islam told New Age at 9:00pm on Sunday that two units would continue the rescue operation for the whole night.
The Panchagarh district administration formed a probe committee in connection with the incident.
Overloading of water transports is one of the major concerns in waterways, which is very common particularly during the festival times.
The country’s Hindu community on Sunday celebrated Mahalaya, which is followed by Durga Puja, across the country.
The 22 deceased are two-and-a-half-years-old Priyonto from Boda, Dipankar, 3, from Debiganj, Koly Rani, 14, from Marwa Futkibari village, Tara Rani, 24, from Debiganj, Lakshmi Rani, 25, from Debiganj, Shova Rani, 27, from Boda, Amal Chandra, 35, from Debiganj, Shimla Rani, 35, from Boda, Khushi Rani, 36, Shafalata Rani, 50, from Boda, Hasan Ali, 52, from Boda, Promila Rani, 55, from Debiganj, Falguni Rani, 55, from Boda, Dhonbala, 57, from Debiganj, Sumitra Rani, 57, from Boda, Soneka Rani, 60, from Boda, Promila Rani, 70, from Boda and children Ushoshi, Shreyashi, and Bilas from Boda, Tanusree from Debiganj and Priyonti from Shakoa.
Two more children and a 25-year-old youth remained unidentified.
Eyewitness Rashidul Islam said that many people got on the boat in haste and when the boat went some distance it was terribly oscillating.
The boatman at that point tried to come back ashore but the boat capsized, he added.
After the accident, locals were seen to start rescuing the victims immediately.
Some of the people on the boat succeeded in swimming ashore.
A rescued passenger, Dhanesh Chandra, who was narrowly saved from drowning, said that the boat capsized because of overloading.
Panchagarh superintendent of police SM Sirajul Huda said that 60 to 70 people from Maria union under Boda upazila, at about 2:30pm, started in a small boat through the River Karatoa for the Bordeshwari temple in Boroshashi union in the same upazila on the occasion of Malalaya.
When the boat got near the Awliar ghat, it upturned, he added.
‘According to eyewitnesses, the boat was overloaded and when it started to ply it capsized almost immediately,’ said Panchagarh deputy commissioner Md Jahurul Islam.
The bodies of 17 people were recovered from the river and eight others died in Boda General Hospital until 9:00pm while seven remained missing, he said.
A total of 19 people were admitted to the hospital while 16 were released after primary treatment, he added.
Dhoniraj Roy from Baroi Para Amlahar village said that three of his relatives died and his cousin Himalaya went missing.
Officer-in-charge of the Boda police Sujoy Kumar Roy said that police and fire divers were conducting the rescue operation.
Many of the rescued passengers were admitted to the Panchagarh sadar hospital and the Panchagarh upazila health complex, he said.
Boda fire service and civil defence station officer Tushar Kanti Roy, quoting locals, said that the engine-boat had been carrying 60 to 80 people.
Panchagarh deputy commissioner Md Jahurul Islam said that by 9:00pm they had handed over all the 25 bodies received.
They had formed a five-member committee, headed by additional district magistrate, and the committee was asked to submit a report in three days, he said.
They would give Tk 20,000 to each of the deceaseds’ families and financial help for the treatment of the injured, he added.
President M Abdul Hamid and prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday expressed profound shock and sorrow at the incident, reported Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha.
In a message of condolence, president M Abdul Hamid prayed for the eternal peace of the departed souls and conveyed profound sympathy to the bereaved families.
In her condolence message, prime minister Sheikh Hasina, too, prayed for the eternal peace of the departed souls and conveyed deep sympathy to the bereaved families.
Lack of enforcement, monitoring, safety gears and training among the vessel crews are causing fatal accidents in inland waterways, said Accident Research Institute assistant professor Md Imran Uddin.
‘These vessels are not registered under the government, which should be brought under registration to prevent accidents,’ he said.
Imran also said that vessel crews took extra passengers for additional income, causing overloading.
Earlier, on April 8, five people were killed as a passenger trawler sank in the River Gazaria in Barishal due to huge waves.
On March 20, eight people were killed after a launch capsized in the River Sitalakhya as it was hit by a seagoing cargo vessel near Al Amin Nagar in Narayanganj.
According to an ARI study, between 2018 and 2021, 462 people were killed, 315 injured and 677 went missing in 326 waterway accidents.