YANGON, MYANMAR: Searchers have recovered 25 bodies from a ferry that sank in central Myanmar and expect to find scores more corpses as workers begin raising the boat from the riverbed, officials said Monday.
A total of 154 people have been rescued since the boat sank early Saturday on the Chindwin River about 72 kilometres (45 miles) north of the city of Monywa.
Search teams scouring the river, who are now securing the boat with ropes so it can be hauled out by a crane, fear the death toll could go as high as 100.
“Now we have found 25 dead bodies but we are still trying to lift the boat out,” said Sa Willy Frient, the director of the local relief and resettlement department who is overseeing the operation.
Earlier he said the ferry had been filled with “mainly university students and schoolteachers” when it sank at around 5:00 am on Saturday.
“I think around 70 or 80 university students and about 30 schoolteachers, and also doctors,” he added.
The boat was carrying an estimated 240-250 people – around 100 more than its capacity – along with heavy cargo, including several motorbikes.
Four of the boat’s staff have been arrested and will face legal action, said Sa Willy Frient. Authorities are still hunting for one crew member and the ferry’s owner.
Survivor Hnin Lei Yee, a 27-year-old schoolteacher, was travelling with her husband and one-year-old daughter to celebrate the Buddhist Thadingyut festival with her family.
Her baby was killed in the disaster. She still does not know her husband’s fate.
“It happened very fast,” she said. “The window was open so I had a chance to get out of the boat.”
“I cannot swim so I had to hold on to a plastic float and finally the rescue boat came to save my life.”
“In the morning, I heard there was a dead child in the hospital and I went there. I saw my daughter dead,” she said, weeping.
Boat accidents are common in Myanmar, where people living along the nation’s long coastline and flood-prone river systems rely heavily on often overcrowded ferries for transport.
At least 21 people, including nine children, died in April after a boat capsized off the coast of Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine.
In March last year 33 people lost their lives off the west coast when an overloaded ferry sank in rough waters.
Sai Khaing Myo Tun, vice president of Myanmar’s teachers’ federation, said more than 30 school staff were thought to have been aboard the ferry that sank on Saturday.
“I am really so sorry,” he said. “This incident has terrified us very much.
“The teachers often have to use such unsafe transportation, especially when they (come to) get their monthly salary.”
Monywa is about 100 kilometres west of Mandalay.