Dozens missing after Bangladesh migrant boat sinks

Dozens of people are missing after an overloaded fishing trawler carrying migrants to Malaysia sank in strong currents off the coast of Bangladesh on Thursday, officials said.
Emergency workers rescued 43 Bangladeshis in the Bay of Bengal after the boat capsized some 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) offshore, police and the coastguard said.
They said dozens more remained unaccounted for, although it is unclear exactly how many people were on board.
One survivor said on local television there were around 80 people on the boat when it capsized and sank at around 3am, and told how he had waited more than four hours to be rescued.“We’re scouring a huge swathe of waters around the accident spot,” said coastguard commander Maruf Hassan.
“Our guards have so far rescued 32 people,” he said, adding local fishing trawlers had rescued others, while a few had managed to swim ashore.
Local police chief Masud Alam said all the passengers were Bangladeshi and they were heading to Malaysia by sea illegally.
Thousands of impoverished Bangladeshis and ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar attempt the perilous journey to Malaysia every year.
Ferry and other boating accidents are common in Bangladesh, home to thousands of small and medium-sized boats, 95 percent of which officials say do not meet minimum safety regulations.
Some 50 people were killed in August last year when a crowded ferry sank in rough weather in Bangladesh’s Munshiganj district.
Hassan said the boat had hit strong currents in a treacherous sea channel shortly after leaving a coastal town near the southern port city of Chittagong.
“It’s a small fishing trawler which was overloaded. It sank as it tried to make a turn in a dangerous channel,” he said, adding the stricken vessel had been dragged to the shore.
A Bangladesh navy ship has joined the two coastguard ships and four small boats looking for survivors, he said. Fishing trawlers have also been asked to help with the search.
“Fortunately one of our ships was stationed nearby when the boat first listed and then sank early Thursday morning,” Hassan said.
Rights groups say thousands have perished attempting the 3,200-kilometre (2,000-mile) journey to Malaysia, with many falling into the hands of people-traffickers.
Some 100 Rohingya refugees lost their lives in two boating tragedies off the Bangladesh coast in October and November 2012.
Bangladesh’s coastguard and border forces have launched crackdowns on economic migrants, while also arresting a number of human traffickers and confiscating their ships. But there has been no noticeable impact. – AFP