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Police arrest Bangladesh ferry owner after at least 37 die in fire

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By AFP
The burnt passenger ferry anchored off the coast of Jhalokati district on the Sugandha River in Bangladesh
The burnt passenger ferry anchored off the coast of Jhalokati district on the Sugandha River in Bangladesh   -   Copyright  AP

Police in Bangladesh have arrested the owner of a ferry on which at least 37 people died in an onboard fire.

The man was arrested on Monday, with investigators blaming the tragedy on a lack of passenger safety.

The fire broke out on the overcrowded ferry, which was carrying 700 passengers on Friday night, near the town of Jhalkathi, 250 km south of the capital Dhaka.

According to local police, as well as the dead, there were around 100 people injured and dozens are missing.

Survivors said they had to jump overboard in the middle of the night from the three-storey ferry, originally designed to carry 420 people.

Most of the victims were burned alive or drowned in the icy waters as they tried to escape the blaze.

The owner of the ferry, Hum Jalal Sheikh, was arrested on Monday, a police spokesman said.

Marine police officer Mahbubur Rahman said the vessel did not have adequate fire extinguishers and buoys to deal with a major accident.

The ferry was still moving, nearly an hour after the engine room caught fire, he told AFP.

“If they had stopped the ferry and dropped anchor immediately, it could have saved all those lives.”

Experts point to poor ship maintenance, lax safety standards and overcrowding on ferries.

In August, a collision between a ferry and a cargo ship carrying sand killed at least 21 people on a lake in the east of the country. In April and May, 54 people died in two separate accidents.