Dozens die as 'overloaded' ferry sinks in Burma, police say
|Passengers disembark from a ferry at a pier on Rangoon river in Rangoon, Burma, in 2011. Photograph: Khin Maung Win/AP|
March 14, 2015
At least 21 people have been killed in sinking of boat carrying more than 200 passengers off western Burmese coast, officer states
At least 21 people have died and 26 others are missing after a ferry sank off the coast of western Burma with more than 200 passengers on board, police have said.
The Aung Takon went down late on Friday after leaving the town of Kyaukphyu on its way to Sittwe in western Rakhine state.
A police officer in Sittwe, who asked to remain anonymous, said on Saturday: “We have got 21 dead bodies, two men and 19 women. About 26 passengers are still missing.”
He added that 167 people had been rescued, and no foreigners were believed to have been on board.
Three navy boats and a host of private vessels were sent to scour the area after news emerged that the ferry had gone down shortly after 8.30pm local time (1400 GMT).
“We suspect that the boat sank because it was overloaded with goods,” the police officer said, adding that rescuers were still searching for survivors.
Many Burmese citizens live along the country’s lengthy coastline, where river systems prone to flooding mean they rely heavily on poorly-maintained ferries for transportation.
Sinkings are not uncommon. Ten people were killed in 2010 when a ferry capsized in the Irrawaddy delta region, while 38 died in 2008 when a ship sank in the Yway river.
In recent years, Rakhine state has been the departure point for thousands of desperate Rohingya Muslims, who crowd on to small and dangerously overcrowded boats to escape persecution, often aiming for Thailand and Malaysia.
Communal violence between Buddhists and Rohingyas swept through the region in 2012, leaving at least 200 dead.
About 140,000 people, mainly Rohingya, are trapped in displacement camps around Sittwe after losing their homes in the unrest.
Referred to by the government as Bengali, they are largely seen as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even if many can trace their ancestry in the country back for generations.
The Arakan Project, a rights group monitoring departures, estimated in October that about 100,000 Rohingya have fled by boat since 2012.
Many of these vessels are barely seaworthy and some are known to have never reached their destinations.