Jhalakathi launch fire death toll rises to 40

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The three-storey launch was carrying over 500 passengers; toll likely to increase

At least 40 people died when a packed launch caught fire on the Sugandha River in the southern district of Jhalakathi early on Friday.

Officials said the death toll is likely to rise as many passengers sustained burn injuries when a fire swept through the Barguna-bound “MV Obhijan” after midnight.

As many as 40 bodies have been recovered so far from the burnt launch, said Deputy Commissioner Zohor Ali, the Jhalakathi district administration chief.

More than 70 passengers of the launch have been sent to the local hospitals, Fire Service Deputy Director Kamal Hossain Bhuiyan told the media.
The fire is believed to have originated in the engine room and then ripped through the launch packed with people, he said.

Jhalakathi Sadar Hospital Resident Medical Officer Dr Amir Hossain said those with critical injuries were given first aid and sent to Sher-E-Bangla Medical College Hospital in Barisal city.

Of the 72 injured, some 66 with serious burns have been admitted to Sher-e-Bangla Medical College and Hospital (SBMCH) in Barisal. The others are being treated at Jhalokathi Sadar Hospital.

“Of the 66 with up to 50% burns, 18 are women,” said Dr Moniruzzaman, assistant director at SBMCH. “Three women and four men with life-threatening burns have been referred to Dhaka Medical College and Hospital as we’ve no dedicated burn unit
The three-story launch was carrying over 500 passengers, according to Jalakhati Sadar police station OC Khalilur Rahman.

Flames erupted around 3am when the launch reached the Dapdapia area. The vessel then went to the Diakul area of Jhalakathi Sadar upazila and dropped anchor on the river bank.
Being informed, the local Fire Service rushed to the spot and brought the fire under control after toiling for two hours. The local police, coast guard and district administration officials assisted in the rescue and recovery operation.
Many passengers jumped into the river in a desperate attempt to save their lives as the fire raged on for more than two hours.

The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority has formed a six-member committee to investigate the launch fire. Md Saiful Islam, additional director of the port and transportation department, will head it.

The Ministry of Shipping has also formed a seven-strong probe body to look into the incident, with ministry Joint Secretary Tofael Islam as its convener. The committee has been asked to submit its report within three business days.

State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury expressed his condolences to the families of the victims. He has set off to Jhalakathi to oversee the situation, according to ministry spokesperson Md Jahangir Alam Khan.

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