At least 40 persons were killed when a packed launch caught fire on the Sugandha river in the southern district of Jhalakathi in Bangladesh early on Friday. Officials said the death toll is likely to go up, as many passengers sustained burn injuries after the fire swept through the Barguna-bound MV Ovijan-10.
The three-story launch caught fire at around 2 a.m. on Friday. The Fire Service suspects that the flames that swept through the launch originated from the vessel's engine room and were likely caused by some kind of explosion. However, it is not yet clear as to what caused the explosion.
Expressing shock and grief at the loss of lives in the fire tragedy, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Friday directed the authorities concerned to ensure speedy treatment of the injured and hand over the bodies of the deceased to their families at the earliest.
As ordered by the Prime Minister, officials of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) of the Bangladesh Police rescued the injured persons and shifted them to Dhaka for treatment using helicopter.
RAB chief Chowdhury Abdullah Al-Mamun went to the spot and also visited the injured at the hospital, Khandaker Al Moin, RAB media wing director, told IANS on Friday evening.
Hasina, who is presently in Maldives on a state visit, expressed deep sympathy to the bereaved family members and prayed for quick recovery of the injured, a PMO release said.
The Bangladesh government will provide financial assistance of 1.5 lakh taka to each of the deceased person's family, said Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury, Minister for Shipping. They will also be provided 25,000 taka to meet the funeral expenses, he added after inspecting the gutted launch on Friday afternoon.
"We will also provide medical assistance to the injured," he said.
Meanwhile, the Shipping Ministry and the Water Transport authorities have initiated separate inquires into the launch tragedy. The ministry has formed a seven-member panel, headed by Joint Secretary Tofail Islam, to look into the incident. The panel has been told to submit its report within three business days, ministry spokesperson Jahangir Alam Khan told IANS.
The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) has also initiated a probe into the fatal launch blaze by forming a six-member committee, which will be headed by Md Saiful Islam, Additional Director in the port and transportation division.
Among the survivors was Hossain Mohammad Al-Mujahid, UNO executive officer for Patharghata Upazila, and his wife. Hossain and his wife were travelling in a VIP cabin of the launch. They were woken up from sleep by the screams of their the co-passengers. As smoke engulfed the launch, Hossain jumped into the river, followed by his wife, who suffered a broken leg after colliding with the steel railing of the vessel.