An estimated 21 people are dead and dozens more passengers are missing after a Myanmar ferry capsized Friday night off the coast of the southeast Asian country. The ferry, Aung Takon 3, was reportedly carrying more than 200 passengers when it departed, and authorities were able to rescue about 167 people throughout the night. However, the remaining passengers are feared dead.
Myanmar's Ministry of Information confirmed in a statement that the ferry was sailing in bad weather when it hit rough waters on the way to Sittwe, a northern coastal city that sits on the Bay of Bengal. The ministry said the boat sunk after it was struck with a large wave.
Although authorities were able to rescue a majority of the passengers, nearly 50 people are presumed dead. Pyay Nyein, an official with the Inland Water Transport Department, told Reuters that 20 bodies have been pulled from the water so far. "Twenty bodies have been found while 27 are still missing. Rescue workers are looking for them," Nyein told the news source.
An anonymous Myanmar police officer also told the Associated Press that 21 bodies were found. "We have got 21 dead bodies, two men and 19 women," the unnamed police officer said.
However, residents in the region told Reuters that it's likely the death toll is higher, as ferries usually carry a number of unregistered passengers. "Normally, the number of tickets sold is not reliable when it comes to the number of passengers," one local merchant told Reuters. "That's very common."
Ferry sinkings are reportedly common in Myanmar, mostly due to severe weather in the region. In 2008, nearly 40 people died when a ferry capsized in the Yway River.
It's also not unusual for ferries to carry more passengers and goods than it can hold, which officials say may have also been the cause of this latest disaster. The anonymous police officer told the AP: "We suspect that the boat sank because it was overloaded with goods." However, the Myanmar government still contends that it was bad weather that caused the tragedy.
The Myanmar ferry disaster comes nearly a year after the tragic sinking of the MV Sewol, a South Korean ferry, in April 2014. More than 300 people — a majority of whom were high school students on a field trip — died when the ferry capsized after making a sharp turn. The ship's captain, who was caught on video escaping the ferry before rescuing other passengers, was arrested for negligence and violating maritime laws.
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