Authorities are treating the incident as murder because the security footage suggests the collision could have been intentional
For the people aboard the Dhaka-bound launch "Morning Bird," Monday morning quickly turned into a disaster as the Chandpur-bound "MV Moyur" rammed into the vessel from behind.
At 9:13am, bystanders in the Shyambazar area of the capital watched in horror as the launch flipped over and sank in the Buriganga River.
Till the filing of this report, rescuers recovered 32 dead bodies and handed 30 of them over to the families, according to Rezaul Karim, officer-in-charge of Sadarghat River Police Outpost.
Of the deceased, 21 are men, eight women and three are children.
Survivor Ronojit Chandra narrated the incident to The Business Standard.
"My brother Satyajit and I were coming to Dhaka for a business trip. We got on the Morning Bird from Mirkadim Inland Port and were supposed to reach Sadarghat within five minutes. After reaching the dockyard, I felt a sudden jerk and fell into the river," he recounted.
Around 30 minutes later, he was able to swim to shore with the help of a local diver.
"My brother was on the deck. I think there were more than a hundred people on the launch. Majority of those on the deck could not survive, and they were mostly women and children," he added.
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Ronojit had looked everywhere for his brother.
"I went to Mitford Hospital morgue where the dead bodies have been kept for identification, but I could not find my brother. How can I go back home without him?" he broke down in tears.
Jahangir Alam, one of the first local divers to respond to the scene, said the high tide made it difficult to rescue people and recover the dead bodies.
According to multiple statements from the authorities concerned, both launches had proper fitness certificates and the drivers had valid licenses.
But the authorities are treating this as a murder because the security footage suggests the collision could have been intentional.
The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) has filed a case against Moyur-2. Although police have seized the Moyur-2 launch, the driver managed to escape.
Commodore Golam Sadeq, chairman of BIWTA, said they would take tougher action against the culprits soon.
"We have already cancelled the route permit of two vessels that run on this route – Moyur-2 and Moyur-7 – owned by Moyur shipping company," he said, adding, "After watching the CCTV footage, it seemed that Moyur-2 intentionally hit the Morning Bird."
He said no launch could travel at such high speeds on such a busy route.
The BIWTA chairman informed that their rescue vessel "Protya" had arrived at the scene, but it could not get past the Postogola Bridge as the water level was too high.
"So, we are now trying to recover the launch manually by using its lift bag. Then we will pull it to shore using the BIWTA tugboat 'Agradut.'"
He said they were trying their best to rescue the vessel within the day.
While visiting the spot, the State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury, said, "After watching the CCTV footage, it seems like a murder."
The shipping ministry and BIWTA have formed two investigation committees to probe the incident.
The shipping ministry has formed a seven-member committee with Joint Secretary (Development) Mohammad Rafiqul Islam Khan as the convener and Director (Shipping) of BIWTA Mohammad Rafiqul Islam as the member secretary.
The committee will submit an investigation report within the next seven days. It will also investigate the cause of the accident and will identify the persons or organisation responsible.
Additionally, it will also recommend what steps to take to prevent such incidents in the future.
The BIWTA has formed a four-member committee, led by the BIWTA Joint Director Joynal Abedin, which will also investigate the incident separately.
Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Passengers' Welfare Association has demanded immediate rescue of the victims, medical treatment for survivors and suitable compensation for the affected people.
The organisation's Secretary General Mozammel Haque made the demands in a press release on Monday.
State Minister Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury has assured that families of the victims will get Tk1.5 lakh for each victim from the BIWTA's naval disaster fund.
For burial, the victims' families have been given Tk10,000 from BIWTA and Tk20,000 from the Dhaka District Administration.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed shock at the loss of lives in the launch capsize.
The premier prayed for the victims and expressed deep sympathies to the bereaved families, according to the Prime Minister's Office media wing. She is keeping regular updates on the rescue operations.