At least 32 dead, scores missing after overloaded ferry sinks in Myanmar

The boat was carrying up to 300 people, around 150 more than it is designed to

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 October, 2016, 3:12pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 October, 2016, 10:55pm

Rescuers have discovered 32 bodies and expect to find scores more after a ferry packed with teachers, students and workers capsized in central Myanmar, local authorities said on Monday.

A total of 154 people have been rescued since the boat sank early on Saturday morning about 72km north of the city of Monywa. The ferry was travelling from Homalin to Monywa.

Search teams scouring the Chindwin River have located the sunken vessel, but fear the death toll could reach as high as 100.

“I heard from witnesses that the boat was packed with at least 300 passengers, despite its official capacity of around 120,” Kyaw Htay Lwin, a lawmaker in the Sagaing regional parliament, said.

Sa Willy Frient, director of the local relief and resettlement department added: “It was mainly university students and school teachers on the ferry that day. I think around 70 or 80 university students and about 30 school teachers, and also doctors.”

He estimated the boat was carrying 240-250 people, around 100 more than it is meant to carry.

Monywa is about 100km from Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city.

Four of the ferry’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 school teacher, 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 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, crying.

Marine accidents are common in Myanmar, where many people rely on crowded boats that are often in a state of disrepair for transport.

Sixty-four people drowned off the western state of Rakhine when an overloaded ferry sank in bad weather in March 2015.

Additional reporting by Reuters